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Doctors concerned vaccines could see ‘cushion effect’ because of COVID-19 variants

Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 11:51 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to seep into American life.

As they slowly infiltrate immune systems worldwide, doctors stress the key to preventing further mutations of the virus is a fast vaccine rollout.

At Louisville’s Broadbent Arena on Friday, dozens of Jefferson County Public Schools employees received their first doses of the vaccine, as part of the city’s effort to vaccinate all district employees.

Friday served as a day of relief for Debra Strabel. She’s been driving JCPS buses for 20 years. She told WAVE 3 News she got the shot to protect herself and her students.

“I just feel like that I needed to get it, just because I don’t want to die from it,” Strabel said. “I’m getting ready to be 62 years old and I’ve got grandkids and I want to live, you know? And I want to be able to see the kids on my bus and see my grandkids and live life.”

Theresa Watkins, another JCPS bus driver, shared that sentiment.

Watkins said she’s heard about the COVID-19 variants, and said their emergence played a role in her decision to get the vaccine.

“I’ve read it on my phone when the news pops up,” Watkins said. “I’ve heard about it. It’s kind of scary out there.”

The variants have the attention of the medical community, all the way up to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Locally, infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Burns said a fast vaccine rollout can stop the virus from mutating.

“By vaccinating people, that will keep the virus from spreading and keep it from replicating,” Burns said. “If it doesn’t replicate, it can’t mutate.”

Burns told WAVE 3 News the current treatments and vaccines used to fight COVID-19 are designed for the original virus, called the wild type. Burns said so long as the virus continues to spread from person to person, it will continue to mutate further from the wild type, which could create a “cushion effect” with vaccines.

“What happens with a cushion effect is that effectiveness may drop down some,” Burns said. “It may drop down to like, maybe 85, 75 percent effective, as opposed to the 90 percent originally effective.”

As of now, Burns told WAVE 3 News that Pfizer and Moderna’s shots are still effective, but according to NBC News, the pharmaceutical companies are working on another booster shot in response to the South African variant. Burns said if the variants prove to be more dangerous, the Centers for Disease Control may be forced to make changes to recommended treatment methods, too.

“Particularly with the CDC, there are mechanisms in place right now that can happen,” Burns said. “They have not really elaborated on that, but they have mentioned that there can be some alterations made and I suspect what that means is there would have to be alterations within the vaccine.”

This week, from Friday to Friday, a JCPS spokesperson said 6,600 employees were scheduled to be vaccinated. Next week, 5,700 employees are scheduled to receive the shot. All JCPS employees are expected to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or Feb. 10.

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