What do you need to know about coronavirus variants?
You may have seen a news report or social media post about coronavirus variants. But what is a variant? And what does it mean for you? Keep reading to learn what COVID-19 variants are, how they happen, if vaccines can protect against variants, and more.
What is a coronavirus variant?
The word “variant” means “different” or “modified.” A coronavirus variant is a different version of the virus that causes COVID-19.
How do variants happen?
Viruses constantly change as they spread to more and more people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 This process is called “mutation.”
These mutated—or new—versions of a virus are called “variants.”
It is natural for variants to form. Some variants disappear over time. Others continue to spread and grow in number.
What coronavirus variants should I know about?
Experts have found many coronavirus variants in the U.S. and around the world. There are three variants that have been in the news lately:
- United Kingdom (U.K.) variant
- South Africa variant
- Brazilian variant
All three variants have been found in the U.S., the CDC confirms.1 They seem to spread more quickly than the original and cases are rising in many states.
Here is more information on these three variants:
- The U.K. Variant (B.1.1.7) began spreading in the fall of 2020. It spreads quickly and easily. The CDC says1 it is more contagious than the original. This variant has been found1 in all 50 states and Washington D.C. As of April 12, it is the most dominant coronavirus variant in the U.S. with 20,915 reported cases. It may also have a higher death rate. A recent study1 suggests that this variant has led to more deaths and hospitalizations than the original. And the CDC says1 it likely causes more severe illness.
- The Brazilian Variant (P.1) was detected in the U.S. in January 2021. Like the U.K. variant, it spreads quickly and easily. There have been 497 cases of this variant reported in the U.S., according to the CDC.1 As of April 12, it has been found in 31 states, including Massachusetts and most of New England.
- The South Africa Variant (B.1.351) was first detected in the U.S. in January 2021. As with the other variants, it spreads quickly and easily. The CDC tells us1 the South Africa variant is about 50% more infectious than the original. There have been 453 cases of this variant reported in the U.S., according to the CDC.1 As of April 12, it has been found in 36 states, including Massachusetts.
Over the coming months, you may hear about more variants as the virus continues to spread.
Do COVID-19 vaccines protect against variants?
Scientists are trying to understand how well COVID-19 vaccines work on variants.
The CDC says1 COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. should work against these variants. But evidence is limited on how variants will affect how vaccines work in real-word conditions. The CDC said it will continue to monitor variants and how they affect COVID-19 vaccines.
Will more coronavirus variants develop?
So long as the coronavirus continues to spread, new variants will develop. This fact is why it is important to stop the spread of COVID-19. And the best way to stop the spread is through vaccination, physical distancing, mask wearing, and other CDC-recommend strategies.
- Virus variants happen naturally
- Some disappear, and some continue to spread
- There are several coronavirus variants spreading in the U.S.
- Some variants spread more easily than the original virus
- The fastest way to stop the spread of variants—and the original coronavirus—is by getting the vaccine. You should also continue social distancing, wearing masks, and following other safety guidelines.
If you’re wondering whether the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, check out these two articles where we discuss vaccine safety:
1 When you click this link, you will leave the Commonwealth Care Alliance website.
Sources: CDC; ABC News; Reuters
Apr 28, 2022
Apr 20, 2022
Feb 25, 2022
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