Each week, OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from OMRF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Adam Cohen.
Here are a few questions from a reader:
If grandparents are vaccinated but toddler and kindergarten-aged grandchildren are not, what is the risk the kids can transmit a new viral variant to grandparents? Can vaccinated family members transfer the new variants to each other? And will masking protect against the variants?
Dr. Prescott Prescribes
Vaccination with any of the three approved vaccines offers strong protection – 85% to 95% – against the strain of Covid-19 that first emerged late in 2019. However, as the pandemic has infected people worldwide, new, more infectious variants of the virus have emerged.
In clinical trials, a strain known as B.1.351 (the so-called South African variant) diminished the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Although trials of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were conducted before this variant started circulating, recent lab experiments found that both vaccines elicit a weaker antibody response against this newer form of the virus. The vaccines are expected to perform similarly against the highly contagious P.1 variant first found in Brazil.
So, what does all this mean?
While any form of the virus is still circulating widely in the population, it’s particularly important for older people – who form weaker immune responses to the vaccines – to continue to exercise caution, as vaccines may not fully protect against infection. This is especially true with newer strains, which are increasingly showing an ability to dodge the body’s immune responses.
And while vaccinated people are less likely than unvaccinated ones to contract these strains, if they are infected, they may not show symptoms, but they can still infect others. Similarly, while children may prove to be less prone to the new strains than adults, if infected, they pose a risk even to vaccinated people.
Masks offer some protection against all strains of the virus. Though not perfect, they help reduce spread. And if you do get infected while wearing one, it will likely reduce your viral load and, thus, the severity of your symptoms.
The current vaccines represent a giant step forward in our battle against the virus. We will continue to learn more about the new strains, and plans for booster shots against them are already in development. In the meantime, keep your guard up – and, whenever possible, your mask on.
Do you have a health query for Dr. Prescott? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!