As new coronavirus variants appear throughout the world, a Halifax infectious disease specialist says people must get vaccinated and stay home to prevent further spread and mutations.
“The challenge comes that if we start to give it some pressure from our immune system or we allow it to divide and divide and divide in hundreds of thousands of people all at the same time, variants are going to show up and some of them are going to be very fit variants,” Dr. Lisa Barrett tells NEWS 95.7’s The Rick Howe Show. “By that, I mean they might be more transmittable and/or they might be more able to cause disease.”
In December, a new coronavirus variant was found in the United Kingdom. Last week, another was found in South Africa. Both have been found in other Canadian provinces but not in Nova Scotia.
Earlier today, a third separate variant was discovered in Japan — one that's similar to the other two strains — in four people who arrived from Brazil.
But Barrett says it wasn’t unexpected to see new strains of the coronavirus. Moreover, it doesn’t seem as if the new variants in the United Kingdom and South Africa cause worse disease.
Instead, they're both possibly much more transmissible, and she says people must do their part in preventing its spread.
One thing people must continue doing is staying home to isolate. In places with thousands of cases, such as Ontario, it’s likely a new variant of the virus will appear even if it’s not imported from another country.
On top of that, Barrett says people must get vaccinated in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
“I certainly think, number one, getting vaccine out to people is important,” she says. “It’s the next layer of protection in a pandemic that’s, to be frank, not done yet. As we watch different variants and things happen around the world, we can be sure that we’re going to be saying the ‘P’ word of pandemic for a while longer.”
A recent study suggests the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will work against the new strains of coronavirus found in the United Kingdom and South Africa. Moderna’s vaccine is currently being tested and is expected to show similar results.
Even if the virus mutates enough to the point where the vaccine must be adjusted, much like flu shots, it won’t be difficult to change.
But the process of getting the COVID-19 vaccine out to the public is a process Barrett says the province could do faster.
“It’s been an OK rollout, but certainly I think in order to get to the next level in terms of speed, we’re going to have to do some things a little differently,” she says.
She says the province will have to stop thinking of small clinics. Instead, it’ll have to “think big and think outside of the box in terms of who can do vaccines and who can run clinics.”
“I’m sure there are lots of folks out there who’d be willing to step up and step in really quickly to help get things going,” she says. “Do I think it’s tragically and irreversibly slow, particularly in Nova Scotia? No.
“Compared to the number of cases we have, we’ve actually got one of the highest rates of vaccine per case in the country.”
Even when Nova Scotia vaccinates a large portion of its population, it doesn’t mean the coronavirus — and the Public Health restrictions put in place — automatically vanishes.
“For a while, those (immunized) numbers are going to look very small,” Barrett says. “Which is why I don’t want people to forget although vaccine is one of the tools in our toolbox for preventing COVID infection, all of that other stuff that we know works so well is not going to go entirely away in three months just because we rollout vaccine to a certain number of people.”