COVID-19 vaccine, round two for St. Vincent workers

But will it be enough to hold off virus variants?

COVID-19 vaccine, round two for St. Vincent workers

WORCESTER, Mass. — At St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, some staff members moved one step closer to full protection from Covid-19 infection.

Among them was Respiratory Therapist Wanda Reynolds, who was the first hospital employee to get the first dose of the Pfizer messenger RNA vaccine back in December.

“I’m expecting my first grandchild on St. Pattie’s Day,” Reynolds said, “A sweet little boy. And this is huge for me.”

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Reynolds reported only minor arm soreness after the first injection -- and was expecting the same after the second. The benefits, she said, are more than worth it.

“The anxiety level that I feel day to day has come down tremendously,” she said. “I highly recommend this for everybody. You will feel so much better and so much safer.”

Even as vaccination efforts pick up around the world, health experts are keeping an eye on the progress of what looks to be the first possible threat to the effectiveness of current vaccines -- a mutant strain of Covid first found in Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa, and thus known as the South African variant.

Like the British variant, the South African variant has multiple mutations. The concern is, some of those mutations are concentrated on the spike proteins -- the very structures targeted by currently available vaccines.

“And if those proteins are eliminated our vaccines will no longer recognize a target to bind to, much like a lock and key,” said George Abraham, MD, Chief of Medicine at St. Vincent Hospital.

It’s unknown to what degree -- or even if -- the South African variant will make current vaccinations sub-optimal. But the early consensus is at least some good can still come from getting vaccinated -- variant aside.

“It’s quite likely that any of the vaccines that are used will have some impact,” said Tim Schacker, MD, an infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “Because they promote the development of a broad range of antibodies... not just a single antibody.”

At the moment, there’s no evidence the South African variant is in the United States. Then again, as Dr. Abraham points out, the U.S. performs genetic tests on only a tiny fraction of Covid samples. He thinks it’s likely we missed the entry of the highly contagious British variant by weeks.

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