coronavirus vaccine

COVID Variant Hunter: Even Vaccinated Should Keep Wearing Masks

A virologist gave an exclusive interview to NBC Connecticut Investigates.

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A leading virus researcher says the current crop of vaccines should stop you from getting hospitalized or seriously ill from new strains of COVID-19 that are emerging, but that does not mean the mask-wearing is over.

LSU Health Shreveport Virologist Jeremy Kamil told NBC Connecticut Investigates that halting their spread will require other measures.

Kamil was among a team of researchers that discovered seven new COVID-19 strains, known as "variants," aside from the variants first identified in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil. 

Kamil explained he found one while breaking down, or "sequencing," the DNA code of a COVID sample. It’s something labs across the country are doing, including some in Connecticut.

“I felt like a kid who caught a fish by accident.  It's like turning on the light. When you sequence, you find things.”

Kamil cautioned that people who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID can get these variants. 

“It doesn't mean that those people are going to get dangerously, deathly ill, but it does mean that the virus is going to be able to replicate probably in their mouth and their nose and maybe silently spread in the community.”

This is why, Kamil said even people with vaccinations or those who already had COVID-19 still need to wear masks in certain situations. 

“If everyone is vaccinated you can get together indoors but don't go into a major theater event or a large indoor space with lots of people you don't live with and not wear a mask because you could be contributing to community spread of something, even if you are vaccinated. The chance is low but it's not zero”, Kamil explained.

Kamil said virus variants are normal and expected. 

“It's never, it's almost never a full escape from immunity. So, people shouldn't panic. Again you're not going to see people who are vaccinated coming down with bilateral pneumonia and needing admission to the hospital on a ventilator.”

He heaped high praise on the vaccines developed so far, noting they can also handle the variant that originated in the UK, known as B117.

“The good news is that B117 is absolutely smashed by all the current vaccines.”

At the same time, Kamil added COVID booster shots or updated vaccines will probably be needed.

“What's clear is we're probably not going to drive this virus to extinction with vaccines at least not the current crop of vaccines,” Kamil said.

The quest for vaccines that attack more variants has made further DNA sequencing even more important. 

Kamil said he’s cautiously optimistic about the COVID relief bill just passed in Washington which provides $200 million toward those efforts. 

“I am concerned as an academic that a lot of those investments that have already been made have gone to for-profit companies…I would rather that those investments be made in a sustainable robust surveillance network that's at least partially based in universities.”

New COVID-19 Variant Cases Reported

State officials released a breakdown of how many COVID-19 variants have been reported in Connecticut.

  • B.1.526 (first detected in New York): 88 cases
  • B.1.525 (first detected in Africa and Europe): 10 cases
  • P.2 (first detected in Brazil): 7 cases
  • B.1.1.7 (first detected in the United Kingdom): 469 cases
  • B.1.351 (first detected in South Africa): 6 cases
  • P.1 (first detected in Brazil): 2 cases
  • B.1.427 (first detected in California): 30 cases
  • B.1.429 (first detected in California): 90 cases
An expert in the field of infectious diseases talked with NBC Connecticut about the COVID-19 variants that are infecting people and why the vaccines will protect against them.

More more information on coronavirus variants detected in Connecticut, click here.

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