Race to vaccinate intensifies as new COVID-19 variants emerge in Va.

Race to vaccinate intensifies as new COVID-19 variants emerge in Va.
Two new variants of COVID-19, both from California, are now in the commonwealth.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Doctors at UVA Health and other health practitioners are now in a race, trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible before more transmissible variants of COVID-19 infect them.

There are now two new coronavirus variants from California in the commonwealth: B.1.427 and B.1.429. Both are on the CDC’s concerning variants list, meaning they’re more transmissible, may cause more severe disease, and could be less effective against treatments.

Dr. Costi Sifri, an epidemiologist with UVA Health, says the emergence of new variants does not come as a surprise as case rates locally and nationally plateau. However, he said there is a silver lining to the rise in variants: Immunity from infections, including those who get sick from new variants, combined with immunity from vaccines, can help communities reach heard immunity faster.

“If you do have variants as a wide-spread phenomenon, strains that are more easily transmissible from person to person, that, in essence, increases the amount of vaccination or immunity due to natural infection you need in the community to stem the tide of transmission,” Dr. Sifri said.

Dr. Sifri explained that heard immunity is difficult to quantify, but given current circumstances, roughly 80-90% people would need either be immune from the virus through infection or vaccination in order to reach that goal.

He also said all available vaccines handle these emerging variants well and are likely to minimize transmission.

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