Getting COVID-19 vaccines into arms and continuing to mask and social distance is essential as cases associated with U.K., South Africa and Brazil coronavirus variants crop up in the U.S., infectious disease specialists from UT Health San Antonio said Wednesday.
News that vaccine efficacy is reduced against the variant strains must not deter the public from being vaccinated when enough supply becomes available, the specialists said. Like annual flu shots, the COVID-19 vaccines strongly protect against multiple strains of coronavirus and show reduced but still significant efficacy against newer variants.
“The vaccines still have efficacy,” said Jason Bowling, MD, infectious diseases specialist at UT Health San Antonio and attending physician at University Hospital. “I hope that, especially with the waits for vaccines, the public will not get discouraged by the news about the variants.”
“A vaccine that is highly effective against variants in the U.S. and U.K. and is more than 50% effective against other variants still provides protection,” said Barbara Taylor, MD, principal investigator of the COVID-19 Prevention Network site at UT Health San Antonio and University Health.
“Most of the vaccine makers have already started generating new vaccine candidates that can serve as a booster to existing vaccines,” Dr. Taylor said.
The news about variants also emphasizes the need to continue with public health interventions such as avoiding large gatherings (especially indoors), masking and 6-foot social distancing.
“We know people are fatigued with them,” Dr. Bowling said. “But they are still critically important to mitigate spread while we are getting people vaccinated.”
“The data remain very encouraging as far as our ability to make vaccines that work against COVID-19,” Dr. Taylor said. “While the process of getting America vaccinated continues, we must make sure people maintain social distancing and masking and all the precautions that we know work to stop the epidemic.”
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The Long School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is named for Texas philanthropists Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long. The school is the largest educator of physicians in South Texas, many of whom remain in San Antonio and the region to practice medicine. The school teaches more than 900 students and trains 800 residents each year. As a beacon of multicultural sensitivity, the school annually exceeds the national medical school average of Hispanic students enrolled. The school’s clinical practice is the largest multidisciplinary medical group in South Texas with 850 physicians in more than 100 specialties. The school has a highly productive research enterprise where world leaders in Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, aging, heart disease, kidney disease and many other fields are translating molecular discoveries into new therapies. The Long School of Medicine is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center known for prolific clinical trials and drug development programs, as well as a world-renowned center for aging and related diseases.
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