Texas A&M Expert: Vaccines Should Control New COVID-19 Strain

A new strain of the virus could be 70 percent more contagious, and widespread vaccinations are needed to halt its movements.
By Keith Randall, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications December 22, 2020

a sign reading "covid-19 isn't taking december off" displayed outside along a row of shops in england
A sign warns shoppers about the risks of COVID-19 as people do their last minute Christmas shopping as new “Tier 4” rules come into place across the southeast on Dec. 19, 2020 in Bromley, England. People in tier four cannot mix indoors with anyone not from their household.

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images


A new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 appears to be much more transmissible, and has placed much of the United Kingdom under lockdown. A Texas A&M University epidemiologist said that if the virus does hit the U.S., the new vaccines being administered now should be effective to stop its spread.

Angela Clendenin, instructional assistant professor in Texas A&M’s School of Public Health, said the virus has mutated, which was to be expected. The new strain is believed to be as much as 70 percent more contagious than the previous strain, which is cause for concern, Clendenin said.

“We should be cautious. It is a serious development that merits concern,” Clendenin said. “It very well could appear in the United States. However, with vaccine distribution in progress, if we continue to exercise appropriate precautions, we can mitigate the impact should it arrive in the U.S. So, being cautious and aware means no need to panic.”

Italy, Germany, Ireland, France and The Netherlands have imposed restricted travel measures similar to the U.K. due to the new strain. One fear is that it might be resistant to the new vaccines that are currently being administered around the world.

A man walks along an empty street under festive lights in london
A man is walks along an empty street under festive lights on Dec. 21, 2020 in London, England. London and large parts of southern England were moved into a newly created “Tier 4” lockdown, closing non-essential shops and limiting household mixing.

Peter Summers/Getty Images


But the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has said that although the new strain is more transmissible, new infections do not appear to be more severe.

“If it really is more transmissible, that means each person who is infected with this particular strain may pass it on to more people than before, and when this happens, the probability of infecting someone who is at high risk for severe disease and potential death is higher,” Clendenin said. “We knew the virus would eventually form a mutation of itself. It is much like the common flu virus, which forms a new mutation leading to new strains almost every year. That’s why when you get a flu shot, that vaccine has been produced to fight three or four different flu strains. As of right now, however, SARS-CoV-2 does not appear to mutate as quickly as influenza.”

Clendenin said that it appears that the COVID-19 vaccines currently being used will still be effective to fight the new strain, but added that we are still in the early stages of vaccinating people.

“We certainly need to keep an eye on this and see what happens,” she said. “More importantly, we need to continue robust testing efforts and ensure we have a large percentage of our population getting vaccinated. These are two of the most effective ways we can slow the spread.”

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