Three variants of the coronavirus have been detected in the United States that have increased the urgency of achieving herd immunity through vaccination. These strains, originally identified in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, are of concern to scientists because spread faster, which could lead to a greater number of infections and saturation of health services.
However, the path to herd immunity seems long. The vaccines are effective against the newer variants, but to a lesser extent. Added to this is the skepticism of an important part of the population, which refuses to be vaccinated.
A study A recent report by Moderna and scientists from the National Institutes of Health shows that the antibodies generated by the vaccine are less effective with the variant identified in South Africa.
The Pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson reported that its vaccine is effective in reducing severe cases of COVID-19 by 85%. However, that effectiveness decreased to 57% in South America and 66% in Latin America, where new strains of the virus have been detected.
“We are very concerned,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told The Washington Post. “All it will take is a couple more mutations, and we’re really going to have to start worrying.”
The Novavax company, in its clinical trial of the vaccine with more than 15,000 participants, found 95.6% effectiveness against the virus. However, he reported that the effectiveness was notably lower against the variant detected in South Africa, which appeared to bypass the natural immunity of volunteers who had already been infected with the common strain of the coronavirus.
“That’s something I haven’t seen before,” Collins told The Washington Post. “It is (a discovery) very tentative, and the numbers are not huge, but I would be alarmed if a natural infection. . . was not sufficient to provide immunity. “
If these new, more transmissible variants become dominant, according to experts quoted by the newspaper, already it would not be enough to vaccinate 70% of the population to achieve herd immunity.
“The level of coverage needed for herd immunity would be higher, in the range of 80 to 85 percent,” Jay Butler, deputy director of infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told The Washington Post.
No existing vaccine is 100% effective. Even if the current vaccines against COVID-19 do not have a very high effectiveness against the new variants, they will be extremely useful for the health systems of the countries thanks to the fact that prevent people from developing severe illness needing hospitalization.
“If you can keep people out of hospitals and morgues, that’s invaluable,” Paul Offit, a virologist and pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Washington Post.
Offit added that mRNA vaccines, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, can be rapidly adapted by scientists to combat new variants of the coronavirus.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stands ready to expedite that process. According to Peter Marks, who heads the FDA’s vaccine division, drug companies will only need to do studies with hundreds, rather than thousands, of people to assess whether vaccines are effective.
In the presence of these virus mutations, it is more important that as many people as possible are vaccinated. But skepticism among the population prevails, putting the risk to achieve herd immunity.
According to centers and medical groups, half of the employees eligible to receive the vaccine rejected it. In Maryland and Washington DC, only 20% of those who work in nursing homes have agreed to get vaccinated.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that the virus will have a greater chance of mutating in an unvaccinated population. “If you stop replication, the virus cannot mutate,” he explained.
As vaccination progresses and virus variants spread, experts suggest that people wear two cotton masks or KN95 mask, taking care to ensure that these do not come from legitimate manufacturers.
It is also necessary that vaccinated people maintain their prevention measures, such as social distancing and hand washing.
With information from The Washington Post.