Bay Area Scientists Examine COVID-19 Mutations, Vaccine Resistance

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As the Bay Area continues to make progress with vaccinations and falling COVID-19 infection rates, there are some warning signs in other states public health officials are keeping an eye on.

The so-called "California variant" has been detected in Texas this week and researchers say it’s highly infectious, but there’s growing evidence that vaccines are effective against it. 

“It’s increasing in prevalence from 5% in December to about 50% and probably even more, right now in Bay Area counties,” said UCSF Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Peter Chin-Hong.

Among the potential problems, this variant may be more resistant against COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. Monica Gandhi said there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful. She's studying the effective vaccination programs in the United Kingdom and Israel.

“They're seeing massive decreases in cases and hospitalizations,” said Gandhi.     

As scientists continue to examine how COVID-19 mutations behave, researchers are still trying to determine if they're resistant to the vaccines.

In some lab tests, antibodies triggered by the shots sometimes don't hold up well against a few of the variants.

But Gandhi has spent much of her career treating HIV patients, so she focuses on T cells instead of antibodies. A couple studies show those parts of our immune systems hold up well against COVID-19 mutations.

“I think natural infection and the vaccines probably create equally as robust of a t cell response, and T cells prevent you from, if you get it again, getting a severe infection,” said Gandhi. “Which is why I don't think we're not seeing increases of infections despite circulating variants.”

At Stanford University's labs, they're also seeing promising data.

“I know there's some preliminary data which suggests that the current vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, should still be good against the California variant,” said Stanford Labs Manager Dr. Kenji Obadia. “So for that I'm not so worried.”

California continues to ramp up it's vaccination program hitting a record with nearly a million doses given in just the last two days.

But there's still work to be done. With the biggest population in the country, only about a quarter of the Golden State's residents have got at least one shot.

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