“We may see things get worse before they get better”: COVID-19 variant adds to challenging times

BOSTON — The first case of a British COVID-19 variant involving a Boston woman is adding to the uncertainty in the months ahead as vaccine rollout lags behind.

Health officials said the woman, who’s in her 20s, had traveled to the United Kingdom and became ill the day after she returned to Massachusetts.

Infectious disease experts told Boston 25 News that the more contagious COVID-19 variant may impact herd immunity levels required to return to some sense of normalcy.

The models range from 60 to 90 percent of the population that would either need to be vaccinated or have been infected with COVID-19.

The number of people currently vaccinated in Massachusetts and across country is nowhere near the percentage necessary to stop the variant from spreading.

“A more contagious variant actually increases the percentage of the population that would need to be immune,” said Dr. Shira Doron, Tufts Medical Center’s Epidemiologist. “We may see things get worse before they get better.”

Dr. Doron said the good news is that the antibodies generated by the approved vaccines appear to be just as effective in neutralizing this highly contagious mutation of the virus.

Until vaccine rollout picks up momentum, she warns it could mean more infections, faster spread and hospitals remaining overwhelmed.

“This is not the time to succumb to that pandemic fatigue that we all feel so acutely right now. This is the time to hunker down,” she explained.

Dr. Doron points out that the woman suspected of bringing the variant to Boston from overseas tested negative for COVID-19 the day before she left the U.K.

She said it’s just one example of why getting tested prior to traveling isn’t entirely reliable, since the incubation period can range from two to 14 days.

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