Public health experts monitor COVID-19 variants and their potential impact during pandemic

Posted at 10:41 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 23:13:58-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The World Health Organization is now monitoring a new COVID-19 variant: the Mu variant, first detected earlier this year in South America. Public health experts in the Tampa Bay area explain what we know about these variants and their potential impact on the pandemic moving forward.

“These viruses mutate, and there’s always selective pressure on the viruses to make themselves more infective and better,” said Distinguished USF Health professor Dr. Thomas Unnasch. “But this is nothing new.”

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Dr. Unnasch addressed the concern with COVID-19 variants as they continue to mutate. He said it’s that we’ll end up seeing so-called breakthrough variants, or variants that can overcome immunity either developed from natural infection or vaccinations.

But Unnasch also explained how the COVID vaccine can help.

“By getting people vaccinated, we limit the number of people who are really heavily infected and the amount of time that they’re allowed to develop the virus, and this decreases the chances that the virus is going to be able to pick up that winning Powerball ticket and become a new variant that really spreads really rapidly,” said Unnasch.

Dr. Unnasch explained the herd immunity idea is still right where we were before, with a virus that keeps raising the bar by becoming more infectious. But Unnasch thinks this time, we really are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The vast majority of those people who are having breakthrough infections are getting no symptoms at all or they’re getting the sniffles, so there’s not a lot of disease that’s associated with the infection in vaccinated people,” said Dr. Unnasch.

In the end, Unnasch says what we want to do is get rid of the really bad disease in the community. Public health experts continue to urge people to get vaccinated and take other precautions to help slow the spread.

“The vaccine takes about four to five weeks to become effective. [A mask is] effective as soon as I put it on my face. So everyone should mask up and get through this because I think by October, we’re going to be really seeing the end of this wave, and I’m hoping that this is going to be the last real wave that we see, at least in terms of disease,” said Dr. Unnasch.