Local health official explains what we know now about the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant

The variant first detected in the U.K. is found to be more contagious.
Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 5:20 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - A variant first detected in the United Kingdom in late 2020 has now made its way to Alabama. So far there are only three cases, two in Montgomery County and one in Jefferson County.

“People always ask, ‘Are the current vaccines affective against these new variants,’ that’s something that’s come up a lot, the solid, science answer is, we don’t know for sure at this point,” Chief Medical Officer, Dr. George Narby, said.

Dr. Narby explains in laboratory tests the antibodies created by the vaccines currently available do provide protection against these COVID-19 strains in a dish. But it remains unsure if that is true in living humans, the answer is being chased.

“I think that all vaccines available will afford at least some protection against a wide variety of variants to come, and I think that’s a good thing,” Dr. Narby said. “It may be that the protection is maybe a little bit less or not as much, but it will at least prevent a severe case of the illness and therefore some of the complications that we have seen.”

The MRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, can be adjusted to a new variant. Dr. Narby said this can be done in a relatively simple and quick matter.

Dr. Narby said the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant is more contagious than other variants. Someone who is in infected can infect more people than previously. Dr. Narby said this variant does not appear to be more lethal than the one Alabama has been facing since March.

“It takes a little time but eventually, that variant becomes the predominant variant in the area so we can expect the number of 117 variant covid cases to increase throughout Alabama and eventually become the dominant strain,” Dr. Narby said. “The reason the number of cases increases is because if that strain is more contagious, then more people are going to get exposed to it and more people are going to get sick.”

According to health officials it is more important now than ever to wear a mask and social distance.

“That fatigue does not change the actual risk that’s out there,” Dr. Narby said. “Whilst we can say, ‘I really don’t want to do this anymore,’ the sad fact of the matter is that the risk remains the same and with the new variant, it may actually be increasing because it’s more contagious.”

Dr. Narby’s concern with this variant is more people per unit time will get infected, possibly seeing an increase in cases as the variant becomes more common.

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