COVID-19 Variants: Should We Be Concerned?


You've likely heard that COVID-19 variants are spreading and even making their way to Michigan. The idea of COVID-19 variants can feel defeating and even downright scary. Are you at higher risk of getting sick now? Won’t the variants negate all of our efforts like social distancing and masking? We answer these questions and more below.

First, let’s start with some good news: variants are pretty normal and even to be expected. But why is that?

What Causes Variants?

Ever wonder why the influenza (flu) shot changes from year to year? The culprit: new strains. Both variants, or different strains of a virus, are often born during the infection process. To cause infection, a virus must take over a host cell and then duplicate itself in order to attack other cells. But sometimes the copies of the original virus are not exact duplicates. This is called mutation. Viruses that contain these mutations are referred to as variants. Dr. Joe Santangelo, MD, Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Munson Healthcare, explains further:

"Viruses naturally multiple inside of people. For example, if you get a cold, the cold virus goes inside your nose and makes copies so it can spread from person to person,” Santangelo says. “Every time a virus makes a copy of itself, there's a chance that it could change a little bit or mutate. Some of these mutations can lead to variants or different strains of the disease. So if there are many people contracting COVID-19 and the virus is making hundreds of millions of copies of itself, this increases the chance for a new COVID-19 variant to occur."

How Many COVID-19 Variants Exist?

Currently, there are five Variants of Concern (VOC) in the U.S. Two of the variants were first identified in California earlier this winter. The other three stem from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil.

Is What I'm Hearing About the Variants True?

You may have heard one or more of the following about the COVID-19 variants:

  • Variants are spread more easily
  • Variants cause more severe symptoms
  • Variants cause less severe symptoms
  • Variants can be detected via testing
  • Variants can be treated with the same medicine used for COVID-19

So what is true versus misinformation? Unfortunately, studying emerging variants of any newer virus takes time – such as understanding the degree of threat.

“While the new variants appear to spread more easily, we do not yet have information on the virulence,” shares Dr. Christine Nefcy, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Munson Healthcare.

In the meanwhile, public health officials are working quickly to learn more in order to help control the spread.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself Against Variants?

Since COVID-19 variants are created from a COVID-19 infection, the same measures that protect you from COVID-19 will also prevent variants. This includes:

  • Being fully vaccinated
  • Masking and social distancing if you are not fully vaccinated or you’re immunocompromised
  • Frequent handwashing

If I'm Fully Vaccinated, Am I Protected from COVID-19 Variants?

The short answer is, yes. Since the vaccine provides up to a 95% protection rate from getting COVID-19, you are significantly less likely to contract a variant. While definitive studies testing every vaccine on every variant are not yet complete, it’s clear that being vaccinated reduces your chance of hospitalization or death from all kinds of COVID-19. In addition, being vaccinated will keep more variants from being a problem. Dr. Nefcy explains:

"The spread of the virus through natural disease is what drives the variants, since the virus can only mutate through natural infection," Nefcy says. "Fully vaccinated people aren't likely to get the natural disease, which ends the ability for the host to allow mutations to occur."

Learn more facts about the COVID-19 vaccines here, including responses to popular myths.

Need to Get Vaccinated?

Ready to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine for you and your family (ages 12 and older)? Talk to your family doctor or click on the button below.

Where & How to Get   the COVID-19 Vaccine

Questions about COVID-19 or the vaccines? Talk to a registered nurse for free! Call 231-935-0951 any time.