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Can We Get Vaccinated Before The Mutant COVID-19 Takes Over? The Race Is On.

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Three mutations of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed in the United States. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say all three of them are more contagious than the strain that has been dominant in the U.S. since last summer. One of them — the UK variant — is likely to become the dominant strain here in March.

What does that mean, and specifically, what does that mean for our vaccines?

It means we’re in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible, as soon as possible, according to Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at UT Health’s School of Public Health in Dallas and author of the blog Your Local Epidemiologist.

Coronaviruses mutate. That is normal, and Jetelina said there are about 12,000 strains of SARS-CoV-2 circulating around the world right now. But experts are watching these three because they’re more transmissible, and more infections means more hospitalizations.

“That's scary to think about,” Jetelina said, “because we just are getting down from our first, big peak. And so it's scary for healthcare systems to think about what that could do.”

“That's why we are pushing so hard to vaccinate and as fast as we can,” Jetelina added.

Jetelina also said the longer this virus is allowed to spread, the greater the chance it will mutate in a way that makes the current vaccines far less effective.

“We can get a mutation today or in a couple of months and it would be able to completely escape the vaccine,” Jetelina said. “So all of these people would have to get a new vaccine.”

She added that’s a worst case scenario, but possible, and adds urgency to the race to quickly vaccinate the population against the COVID virus.

In this episode of Petrie Dish, Jetelina also explained what we need to do to protect ourselves against a more transmissible COVID virus, including the latest on masking.

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