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'The vaccines should work on the new COVID-19 strain': Doctor

Dr. Sara Andrabi, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, joined Yahoo Finance to discuss the latest Covid-19 strain hitting the UK.

Video Transcript

- You're watching breaking news, here. We have President-elect Joe Biden getting the COVID-19 vaccine. He just got it it. Looks like they're putting the bandage on his arm. So we will continue to watch that and all the latest with the COVID-19 developments, as the vaccine is deployed here.

I'm bringing into the stream Dr. Sara Andrabi, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, to discuss the latest with the virus and, of course, the vaccine rollout here. Doctor Andrabi, thank you so much for joining us. And I think to start, before we dig into the vaccine, a lot of folks have been talking about the mutation coming out of the UK. Would love to hear from you. Contextualize that for our viewers and what this means.

SARA ANDRABI: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on the show today. So there's good news, and there's bad news. The bad news is that a new strain of coronavirus is racing across England. It appears to be more transmittable than the original version. And the new variant spreads 70% faster than the other variants.

This has already been a very contagious virus. And now, you add on to it even more potential for transmission. It is concentrated around the UK, and the UK is up by about 36,000 coronavirus cases, which is double what it was last week. Flights are being canceled. Many countries have a ban on anything or anyone into or out of the country.

The most likely explanation for this variant-- it probably emerged in a patient with a weakened immune system. And so that person was unable to fight off the virus, and their body became a breeding ground for the virus to mutate. And so why is this causing concern? Well, it's rapidly replacing other versions of the virus.

It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important. And some of these mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells. But the good news is that it doesn't seem to make people any more sick. The best news might be that vaccine makers routinely take mutations into account.

So for example, seasonal flu vaccines have a variety of viral strains already circulating. And they actually allow for some that they could develop later in the season. So there's no reason right now to believe that the vaccines will not be effective against this mutated virus as well. But we do need to stay vigilant, right? Vaccines train the immune system to attack several different parts of the virus. So even though part of the spike has mutated, the vaccines should work.

- Doctor, I'm curious. I might have skipped biology the day they went through this. When viruses mutate, do they tend to get weaker? Or is it they can become stronger? They can become weaker? There's no real logic to it? How does this work?

SARA ANDRABI: Right. And so a lot of these are random mutations. Sorry, my lights just went out. And so one of the things that they are studying with this variant in South Africa is that vaccine companies like AstraZeneca are undergoing clinical tests with the vaccine, just to see if this variant is actually going to be affected with the vaccine.

These transmissions and these mutations can vary quite a bit. Some of them can be random and cause the virus to be more weak. Some of them can mutate and cause the virus to be stronger. So we really have to keep doing the research to see which way this variant is going to go.

- Dr. Andrabi, I understand that you've already gotten the vaccine. Of course, we were just watching President-elect Joe Biden get his. Can you share with our viewers your experience with it?

SARA ANDRABI: Oh, my gosh. I mean, it felt great. I actually got goosebumps. And I got a little teary eyed when I received the email last week to sign up for my first dose of the vaccine. I mean, I had some arm soreness and some aches, but they resolved within 24 hours after they started.

And you know, the data doesn't lie. One week after the first shot, you have a 55% chance of not getting COVID. Three weeks later, it's 95%. And the 5% who did get COVID in the Pfizer study only got a mild illness with the sniffles. And so for me, one of the things I keep thinking about is the real heroes are really the folks who volunteered to be part of those trials and have brought us to where we are today.