‘The variants are a real threat.’ Former FDA comm. discusses vaccine effectiveness on COVID variants

COVID-19 variants

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - There are a handful of variants of the COVID-19 virus that are beginning to spread around the world. Experts say those variants could prolong the pandemic if we do not keep them under control.

The most prevalent variant of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. is known as the UK variant or B 1117. Former FDA Commissioner and current Duke University Physician and Economist Dr. Mark McCLellan says the CDC projects it will soon be the dominate form of COVID-19 in the United States.

But there is some good news.

“The three approved vaccines are effective in preventing mild and severe cases caused by B1117,” Dr. McCLellan said.

However, there are other variants that are proving to be more challenging. Like B1351 seen in South Africa and Brazil. Dr. McClellan says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested directly on this variant and did well to prevent severe infections. He says Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are less effective on this strain, but still provide some protection.

“Good, but not as spectacular immune response to contain that virus as they did for the original forms of COVID, but good enough to prevent severe complications,” Dr. McCLellan explained.

A similar, but slightly different variant is spreading in New York and New Jersey: Variant 1526. Dr. McClellan says more surveillance is needed to know the dangers it presents.

“We don’t really know how serious that variant is,” Dr. McCLellan said.

Vaccine manufacturers are already working on boosters and modifications to it vaccines in order to contain variants that have already emerged. Dr. McCLellan says getting the vaccines that are already available will prevent even more variants from forming.

“It’s when the virus makes copies of itself and those copies aren’t perfect is when the viruses emerge. So, less opportunities to copy, less opportunities for variants to emerge as well.”

To stay ahead of the virus, Dr. McCLellan says more surveillance and testing for variants needs to be done. He says it is relatively cheap to test for, but most labs do not have the infrastructure to do it. The CDC is rolling out a new program to help labs test for variants.

“The variants are a real threat. It is something we need to be vigilant about going forward in the pandemic. But I do think they can be managed. It is going to take some continued vigilance and monitoring the variants as they emerge and making sure we’re applying our ability to determine how effective our vaccines and other treatments are.”

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