CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Doctors at the University of Virginia are working to track down highly contagious variants of COVID-19 in the community, following reports of the UK variant at the University of Virginia, as well as a confirmed case of the South African variant, B 1.351, from the Virginia Department of Health.
Doctor Costi Sifri, UVA Health’s director of epidemiology, said while most physicians are primarily concerned about the UK virus, they are prepared to fight the South African variant, should it become present in the Charlottesville area.
“Certainly we would be concerned about it. We are taking measures to actively take a look for the types of variants that are in our community and that we’re seeing here at the medical center,” Sifri said.
While the UK variant has been more widespread throughout the country, the South African variant’s appearance in the commonwealth does mean more physicians will be on alert, due to its resistance to vaccines.
“The reason why the South African variant is more of a concern is because it has the potential to be less susceptible to preexisting antibodies whether its from previous infection or whether it’s due to vaccine,” Sifri said.
Dr. Sifri said vaccines are highly effective against the UK variant. “Vaccines in both a laboratory and it appears clinically, is quite effective and remains very robust for these so-called UK variants, the B.1.1.7 variants,” he explained.
While the South African variant may be more resistant to vaccines, Sifri said they can still limit severe reactions to the disease.
“The Johnson and Johnson vaccine and others that have been looked at in South Africa appear to protect against severe disease, hospitalizations and death. So while they may be less effective, it also appears that these vaccines do offer protections against the most important outcomes of COVID-19 infection.”
Sifri said the spread of more resistant variants like the South African variant suggests doctors will have to rethink how they approach and manage the virus in the future.