Battle between variants and vaccines

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FILE – In this Jan. 12, 2021, file photo a pharmacist draws saline while preparing a dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in Sacramento, Calif. Mutations to the virus are rapidly popping up and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool, File)

CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — As Illinois appears on the verge of another COVID-19 surge, the pool of identified variant in the state is also growing.

“The B117, we had several of, that’s the dominant strain from what we’re seeing now,” explained Dr. Aaron Rossi, CEO of Reditus Laboratories in Pekin.

The B.1.1.7 or UK strain is the most prevalent in Illinois, but it’s not alone.

“Most notably, the P.1 Brazilian variant, we had 16 positives there,” Dr. Rossi said. “Fifteen of them were from the state of Illinois.”

The other variants identified in Reditus testing include the South African variant, B.1.3.5.1, and Santa Clara variant, B.1.4.2.7/4.2.9.

The findings did not surprise Dr. Marc Shelton, the chief clinical officer with HSHS. He says it’s why infections and hospitalizations are up.

“We know that the variant virus, COVID viruses, are more contagious and we know a lot of people haven’t been vaccinated yet,” Dr. Shelton said.

Despite an increase in hospitalizations, there hasn’t – thus far – been a similar spike in ICU and ventilator usage.

“We have not seen any real significant need or demand for ICU beds,” Lynee Barnes, President of Carle Foundation Hospital said. “We have seen a slight increase the need for our medical beds, but it hasn’t been at all overwhelming.”

“I think that is almost entirely attributable to the high vaccine ratios in the people over 65,” Dr. Shelton said.

But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Treatment has also improved.

“When the first wave hit, the mortality was upwards of 25 to 30 percent in the hospitalized patient and with improved care protocols, the proning, the changes in oxygen delivery models, the Bamlanivimab, the Remdesivir, appropriate steroid use,” Dr. Shelton explained. “All of those things, the answer is is E, all of the above. They all contributed to around 9 or 10 percent.”

Both Barnes and Dr. Shelton believe COVID-19 is here to stay.

“Everybody that’s not been vaccinated or hasn’t had COVID and recovered is going to ultimately get it one way or the other,” Dr. Shelton said.

“We’ll never squelch this, I don’t think,” said Barnes. “It’s probably a virus that’s with us. But our science has really show us that we’ll be able to wrap our arms around this and keep this at bay.”

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