Will COVID-19 variants change the vaccination gameplan?

Credit: CBS News

A race is underway to get more shots in arms as fast-spreading variants of COVID-19 surface across the U.S.

The UK variant is already confirmed in Florida, which has reported 147 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant as of Feb. 1 – and it’s the highest case-count in the nation.

So, what’s the best gameplan to fight it, and could it change the vaccine rollout?

“In January, we recorded the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in any month since the pandemic began, with over 90,000 deaths recorded in January alone,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Now the question looms: In the race to get more people vaccinated, can we take shortcuts?

“Perhaps we could reduce severity of illness and more people by distributing single doses to a wider number of people, as opposed to holding back doses for the people that are getting the second dose,” said Dr. Jay K. Kolls, director of the Center for Translational Research in Infection and Inflammation at Tulane School of Medicine.

Kolls said the benefits of giving everyone one dose and then focusing on the second dose later could outweigh the risks.

“You take your best estimate of what could protect the largest number of people. And I think that’s the consideration here.”

Not everyone agrees.

Dr. Aaron Glatt with the Infectious Diseases Society of America said we need to stick to the two-dose schedule.

“When we deviate from what the studies show, we enter into an area where it’s uncertainty,” he said.

“We’d love it for nobody to get infected at all. But the critical benefit of these vaccines is that they prevent people from dying, prevent people from getting hospitalized and getting very, very sick.”

Testing shows that happens after two full doses. Instead of changing the dosing schedule, Glatt said we need to speed up our vaccination programs and aim to administer up to 200 million doses in the next 100 days.

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