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South African COVID variant makes its way to Mississippi



Dr. Thomas E Dobbs III
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas E Dobbs III (photo from MSDH)

A South African variant of the COVID-19 strain has made its way to Mississippi, raising questions from the public on what this means for vaccines and the COVID-19 policies in effect.

We are all tired of hearing about COVID-19. Trust me, even we in the newsroom are tired of writing about it. Unfortunately, it has become a part of our everyday lives at this point and the only way to truly battle it is with knowledge.

COVID-19 reproduces very quickly, therefore many generations of the virus happen in a short amount of time. Luckily, quick reproduction hinders mutations to an extent.

COVID-19 rapidly moves from person to person, often before the immune system has had a chance to be put to work. However, those with auto-immune disorders can keep the virus in their systems for months. The fact that the virus stands stagnant and unhindered by the immune system triggers various variants that eventually spread to the rest of the population. These viral mutations can be cause for alarm.

Several cases of the British version of the virus have been found recently in Mississippi, and more recently the South African strain. The South African variant of the virus is more resistant to vaccines, specifically the Johnson & Johnson brand. In a recent interview with FOX13, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs stated that while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be less effective against that version of COVID-19, it does not mean the vaccine is useless.

“It looks like it might have diminished effectiveness at preventing symptomatic illness compared to the other strains,” stated Dobbs. “It does still seem to show robust protection against severe illness and hospitalization.”

The flu shot does not protect against all variants the same. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine works better against Influenza B and Influenza A(H1N1) but lower protection against Influenza A(H3N2). While the protection isn’t 100%, studies show the risk of getting the flu is reduced by up to 60%. One can expect COVID-19 vaccines to work in the same manner.

The strain is constantly changing, and there may never be a 100% effective vaccine. COVID-19 is going to be a part of our lives just as the flu is during flu season. The best thing we are going to be able to do is protect ourselves the best we can by practicing common sense sanitation; wash your hands, cough into your elbow, maintain a respectable personal space.

“We need to make sure that we do simple stuff to protect the vulnerable, to protect your family, we didn’t think this would be over anytime soon although we are able to deal with it more,” said Dr. Dobbs to FOX13. “This is the time for common-sense precautions.”

The fact that a vaccine isn’t 100% effective does not mean it will not work. Herd immunity seems to be the larger goal.  The more people who have a vaccine, the less of a chance they will get it, thus decreasing the amount of the virus being transmitted. Even if the vaccines were only 50% effective, that would have an exponential impact on the number of active cases and hospitalizations.

The gist of it is this: The more people have a resistance to the virus, the less of the virus will be in the air. With Mississippi opening the gates to vaccines for everyone, getting protected would be the best way to get our pre-COVID lives back to normal.

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