COVID-19 Variants and Vaccination Updates

How are the COVID vaccines holding up against new mutant strains?

Madison White, News Editor

Viruses must constantly mutate in order to survive and reproduce. Some mutant strains will die off, but others will persist, as is the case with three new strains of the coronavirus. As we approach the one year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown, the new strains have entered the United States, bringing up questions about vaccine efficacy.

By late December in 2020, a variant from the UK (B.1.1.7) was first detected in the United States. According to scientists in Britain, this variant is said to be more contagious and likely more lethal than the original strain. The British government has released its research findings about B.1.1.7, saying its transmission rate is 35% – 45% greater and has been found in at least 82 countries. Doctors in America are predicting that the UK variant could become the dominant strain by March, but so far, vaccines have been effective against B.1.1.7.

The strain originating in South Africa was reported in the U.S. at the end of January. It made its way into California in mid-February. This strain, B.1.351, shares some mutations with the UK variant, making it highly transmissible. In addition, there have been cases of patients being re-infected with this strain even after recovering from the original virus. Moderna and Pfizer are creating booster shots to ensure their vaccine will be effective which are currently under trial stages.

P.1, the variant from Brazil, was detected in the U.S. in January. Although this strain is not as prominent in the states, it has scientists most worried. P.1 re-surged in Manaus, Brazil after the city was supposed to have achieved herd immunity last October.

Scientists are also studying a variant that originated in California, called the West Coast variant, or B.1.427/B.1.429. It is the dominant strain in our state. Scientists speculate that it has a greater ability to bind to receptor cells, which would make it highly transmissible, but there is not enough evidence yet to support this theory. However it has been associated with severe illness and death. So far, this variant is more resistant to antibodies produced in vaccinated people than other strains are.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for use in the United States. The company begins distributing doses on March 1st. It has shown strong protection against more severe cases of the virus, according to analysts. The fact that the J&J vaccine is only one dose, rather than two, gives encouragement that the vaccination process will continue to speed up across the nation. Information released from Johnson & Johnson also suggests that the vaccine can aid in reducing the spread of the virus among asymptomatic patients. Approximately 100 million doses are expected to be administered by the summer of 2021, J&J told Congress.

The CDC said over 66 million doses of the vaccine have been given out, but the multiple variant strains are cause to believe that we are not out of the woods yet. The virus will continue to mutate in order to survive, signaling the importance of taking precautions even after vaccines have been administered. At the writing of this article, California has received 15.7 million doses of vaccine from the CDC with 11.7 million residents having already been vaccinated.

(Medical information and statistics provided by