Houston is the nation’s first city to record every major variant of the novel coronavirus — many of which are more contagious than the original strain.
“The numbers of the major variants we have identified in our large sequencing study are disquieting,” said Dr. James Musser, who leads the team of experts at Houston Methodist Hospital behind the new finding. “The genome data indicate that these important variants are now geographically widely distributed in the Houston metropolitan region.”
It comes barely a week after the ever-evolving virus’ death toll in the United States passed the half-million mark, a grim figure that Musser and other experts believe will continue to increase unless Americans double-down on social distancing, masks and vaccination efforts.
Since the virus was first detected in the Houston region nearly a year ago, Musser’s team has sequenced more than 20,000 genomes of COVID-19. The most recent batch of roughly 3,000 genomes sequenced from patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 included variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.
Experts are still researching the new strains and the effectiveness of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. But there’s no reason to panic, said Dr. Wesley Long, a Methodist infectious disease expert who assisted with the study.
There is evidence that the Brazilian strain is more contagious and can infect those who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Musser said.
But Long said the variations in vaccine effectiveness are minor and don’t detract from the overall goal of vaccines: to prevent severe illness, hospitalization or death.
“It doesn’t mean that (current vaccines) are useless,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that (the new strains) go through walls or defeat masks or that they change the way they are transmitted. All of the rules that we’ve used against COVID still apply.”
His advice: Continue to social distance and wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible — regardless of which brand is available.
Go tell that to Greg Abbott. He won’t listen, but at least you can say you tried.