Urgent Vaccinations Key To Protecting Against Virus Variants, Doctors Say

Mar 1, 2021, 6:35 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 5:18 pm

MURRAY, Utah – The COVID-19 vaccine campaign has taken on a critical urgency as variants of the coronavirus spread nationwide.

While new virus cases have declined in recent weeks, doctors still worry about the variants and whether the vaccines will protect Utahns against them.

Many doctors have described it as a race between the vaccines and the mutant, or variant, strains of the coronavirus.

While it’s still too early to tell whether we will win that race, doctors said they are optimistic.

“The reason it’s a race is that the variants become more of a problem the more community transmission we have,” said Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare.

Right now, COVID-19 variants pose one of the greatest potential threats to our recovery from the pandemic. Webb said Utahns need to continue to help limit the spread of the virus as much as possible before those variants have a chance to replicate. Ongoing vaccinations, plus public health efforts to prevent the spread will help decrease Utah’s community transmission rate, Webb said.

“That’s the race right there,” he said. “The lower we can drive our transmission in the community, the less opportunity these variant strains have to becoming a problem.”

The vaccinations decrease the level of viral activity in the community, which is why the acceleration of the vaccination campaign is so important.

“That decreases the chances for a variant to emerge,” said Dr. Mark Briesacher, chief physician executive with Intermountain Healthcare.

He pointed out that a significant part of the most recent surge in California came from an emerging variant. Yet that state is seeing the same decrease in new cases and hospitalizations as other states, which could mean the vaccines are effective against the variants.

”We’re watching this very carefully. The department of health is watching it carefully. The CDC is watching it carefully,” Briesacher said. “We’ll all be learning together. But for now, let’s just keep vaccinating as quickly as we can.”

Vaccine manufacturers also have the technology to create boosters to address variants, if necessary.

“That doesn’t look like it is likely at this point,” said Webb. “All of the vaccines have excellent effectiveness against the most common of these variants of concern, which is the U.K. variant.”

He said it’s still too early to tell whether Utah is winning that race because the capacity to screen for the variants is limited. Right now they’re not seeing any clinical signals that the variants have become more common.

“Without data to back it up, I would say that we do appear to be staying ahead of the curve in terms of that race,” Webb said.

Both doctors urge all Utahns to do their part in that race when our turn arises.

“When you’re eligible, go to a place that works best for you, and get the vaccine,” said Briesacher.

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How do I prevent it?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a health care professional recommends it.

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Urgent Vaccinations Key To Protecting Against Virus Variants, Doctors Say