Cohen Medical Associates is a family medical center and research center located in Delray Beach, FL.
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Coronavirus News Roundup

Our family practice doctors have some good news and some bad news about the coronavirus to share:

The good news: Highly effective vaccines are now available to help stop the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus.

The bad news: Supply is limited, and distribution remains chaotic here in Florida. Hopefully this will all be worked out in the coming weeks. But in the meantime, we thought we’d bring you up to date on the latest coronavirus developments.

The new mutations

If you ever saw the movie “War Games,” you’ll recall the end of the film. The WOPR computer is frantically testing various war game scenarios to try to win World War III.

One character, watching the high-speed attempts, asks, “What’s it doing?”

Another responds, “It’s learning.”

This is not unlike what happens when the coronavirus gets inside a human body. As the body mounts defenses against it (the immune response), the virus tries to adapt itself to get around these defenses. Each time it reproduces (which happens very rapidly once it’s inside cells), it has the chance to evolve into something more efficient to help ensure its survival.

This is what has happened in at least two instances. New strains of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus recently arose in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The UK strain has already been found in the U.S., including here in Florida.

Although neither strain appears to be more deadly than the one we’ve been dealing with for the past year, these mutations have apparently made it easier for them to spread from one person to another. The differences from the current strain are the red spikes on the outside. These make it easier for the virus to attach to and enter cells. Once inside a cell, however, they seem to behave in the same, damaging way as the earlier strain.

Vaccine effectiveness

But here’s some good news about the coronavirus. Earlier this month, a new study seemed to show the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is effective against these new strains.

This has been a concern ever since the mutations were discovered. Were the mutations radical enough that the vaccine couldn’t teach the body to recognize and fight off the new strains?

The results of the study show the blood serum from patients who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was just as efficient at repelling the new strains as the older strain.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to have an effectiveness rate of 95 percent against the coronavirus. The Moderna vaccine effectiveness rate is 94.1 percent, and 100 percent effective against severe forms of COVID-19.

Immune response persistence

Another question that has arisen since the initial outbreak has been how long immunity lasts once a person has recovered from COVID-19. There have been a few reports of people being reinfected with the virus, which seems to happen in about 10 percent of cases for no known reason.

But another study released earlier this month showed that for most people, immunity lasts for at least eight months. Even against the new UK and South Africa strains.

“There’s a lot of different arms of the immune system recognizing the virus,” said Daniela Weiskopf, a co-author of the study and a researcher at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, in a statement. “So if you have a mutation, it wouldn’t evade all these different arms.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends those who have been infected should receive a vaccine, in case they are among the 10 percent who could be reinfected.

Allergic reactions to the vaccine

Some people have been hesitant to receive the approved vaccines. They fear reports of allergic reactions in some vaccinated individuals

The CDC this month released a study pointing out that, of the 1.9 million people vaccinated during the first two weeks of distribution, just 21 experienced severe allergic reactions. Most of those had a history of allergic reactions. All but one of them have fully recovered.

When balanced against the deadly results of the virus—the daily death toll in the U.S. recently surpassed 4,000—the CDC said the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh the risks of an allergic reaction.

The results of all these studies are constrained by the fact that the coronavirus is still relatively new. We have no data beyond eight or nine months, because it’s only been around for that long.

But researchers all over the world continue to work at a feverish pace to learn as much it as they can.

Meanwhile, because there’s still so much we don’t know about the virus and the vaccines over the long term, it’s important to maintain the usual hygiene practices against it. Wash your hands, wear masks in public, and maintain social distancing as much as possible.

1 Comment
  • Nancy Trager

    I am having my 1st vaccine on Wed. at the Civic Center. After reading your article about Pfizer’s latest vaccine, and that it is most effective against the latest outbreak, when I go to have mine, are they obligated to tell me, if I ask, who’s vaccine I am receiving? Also does the 2nd does have to be by the same company?

    Thank you,

    February 1, 2021 16:02
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