Getting COVID-19 vaccines into arms and continuing to mask and social distance are essential as cases associated with U.K., South Africa and Brazil coronavirus variants crop up in the U.S., infectious disease specialists from UT Health San Antonio said Wednesday.

News that vaccine efficacy is reduced against the variant strains must not deter the public from being vaccinated when enough supply becomes available, the specialists said. Like annual flu shots, the COVID-19 vaccines strongly protect against multiple strains of coronavirus and show reduced but still significant efficacy against newer variants. All COVID-19 vaccines to date have been 100% successful against causing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, they added.

Jason Bowling, MD
Barbara Taylor, MD

“The vaccines still have efficacy,” said Jason Bowling, MD, infectious diseases specialist at UT Health San Antonio and attending physician at University Hospital. “I hope that, especially with the waits for vaccines, the public will not get discouraged by the news about the variants.”

“A vaccine that is highly effective against variants in the U.S. and U.K. and is more than 50% effective against other variants still provides protection,” said Barbara Taylor, MD, principal investigator of the COVID-19 Prevention Network site at UT Health San Antonio and University Health.

“Most of the vaccine makers have already started generating new vaccine candidates that can serve as a booster to existing vaccines,” Dr. Taylor said.

The news about variants also emphasizes the need to continue with public health interventions such as avoiding large gatherings (especially indoors), masking and 6-foot social distancing.

“We know people are fatigued with them,” Dr. Bowling said. “But they are still critically important to mitigate spread while we are getting people vaccinated.”

“The data remain very encouraging as far as our ability to make vaccines that work against COVID-19,” Dr. Taylor said. “While the process of getting America vaccinated continues, we must make sure people maintain social distancing and masking and all the precautions that we know work to stop the epidemic.”