Local health expert discusses concerns surrounding new COVID-19 variants, vaccine effectiveness

HOUSTON – A health expert at The University of Houston College of Medicine says the variants are spreading, and there is some concern that the current vaccines are slightly less effective against the South Africa and Brazil variant.

But, overall if we can get these vaccines into people arm’s ASAP, we can stop the spread.

“We are in a race against time with these vaccines and COVID-19,” said Dr. Bhavna Lall, an internal medicine physician in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine.

She continued: “We are facing a huge crisis as we all know, but we are also facing a new number of variants and we have several variants already in the country.”

KPRC 2 also spoke to Dr. Hana El Sahly. She’s an Associate Professor of Molecular Virology at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“The variant from south Africa and Brazil are variants of concern,” Dr. El Sahly said.

She says health experts are following the data and clinical trials from the locations to see how effective the vaccines are.

“We have seen that the UK strain seems to be behaving a lot like the strain already circulating in the United States, but the strain from South Africa and Brazil these two strains seem to require more antibody in a lab test to get killed,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Kingdom identified a variant called B.1.1.7. In South Africa, there is another variant called B.1.351 emerged from B.1.1.7. In Brazil, there is a variant called P.1

Lall says the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both effective and prevent hospitalizations and deaths, which is why everyone needs to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

“If we stop the replication of the virus, we can stop the mutants from forming the new strains. But if we do not get vaccinations to people in time, we will see the emerging of more variants, which will be dangerous for everyone right now,” she said.

As COVID-19 evolves, there are some concerns about vaccine efficacy and companies are researching the variants.

“Many of the different companies are actually talking about this and trying to figure out if they need to have booster vaccines for the South African variant, the Brazilian variant,” Lall said.

Dr. El Sahly says it’s important to follow the guidelines because there is a chance you can test positive for one of the variants, even if you’ve already had COVID-19.

“We are seeing data from the locations where these variants are emerging more so in South African that reinfections can happen, we are seeing it without the variants really they are rare, but it does happen,” she said.

Lall says there need to be more resources for older people when it comes to registering for the vaccine.

She says it’s also important to stay informed on the different variants. She says we must continue to wash our hands, wear a mask and practice social distancing.