Healthbeat: Another COVID variant emerges, medical professionals discuss importance of herd immunity

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — As COVID-19 has swept around the globe, we have seen the emergence of several variants. These variants have evolved in Asia, Africa and Europe and seem to spread more easily than COVID-19.

These variants are quite contagious. It’s why places like the clinics at Scranton Primary Health Care Center are on a mission to do what they can to stop the spread.

Several weeks after he became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Ramon Lantigua is finally getting his first shot of the Moderna vaccine with one goal in mind.

“To stay protected. To protect himself from the virus.”

Lantigua will still need a second dose in four weeks to be fully vaccinated. The lack of people being fully vaccinated has given rise to COVID-19 variants.

“There’s so much traveling around. There is a very high risk that someone will bring something in if you’re not fully covered,” said Wasique Mirza, MD, Chief Medical Officer, The Clinics at Scranton Primary Health Care Center.

A new COVID variant was identified last week in Vietnam. Besides Asia, variants have emerged in Europe, Africa and North and South America.

“How that variant mutates based on partial immunity could be a problem,” Dr. Mirza said.

Existing data shows that COVID variants seem to spread more easily among children who’ve largely been spared serious COVID-related illness.

“Children being out there and playing and interacting with adults who may be more vulnerable can certainly get infected and transmit. So it has to be… We have to be careful about them not being the carriers of these variants because they can be asymptomatic and still be able to spread them,” said Dr. Mirza.

The CDC says existing vaccines appear to protect against these variants. Dr. Mirza just wishes more people will get fully vaccinated and reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants.

“As we, patients age in population, the immune response may not be as robust so as we see protection, you know, there is always a high risk of catching some of those variants.”

Dr. Mirza says these variants must be monitored carefully. Currently there are five known variants in the U.S., but Dr. Mirza fears there could be even more.

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