Are new COVID-19 strains cause for concern? Georgia doctors say don’t be alarmed

Several countries around the world are restricting travel from U.K. as the country deals with a possible new strain of the coronavirus.

Experts here in Georgia and the U.S. say there is reason for concern, but new strains should not cause any alarm or panic.

Viruses often mutate or develop small changes and there is still much unknown about this new strain. Channel 2′s Matt Johnson spoke with local doctors and families of COVID-19 victims.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus Pandemic in Georgia]

Carol Lewis is a Rockdale County mother who has never stopped taking pandemic precautions.

“We’re just being more aware, hyper aware, at this point, especially now, with this new strain coming along,” she said.

Lewis’ father Hiram Green was a Korean War veteran who died from COVID-19 complications in April.

“I have another family member that’s battling it right now who is on a ventilator as we speak,” Lewis told Johnson.

For Lewis and other families of COVID-19 victims, the discovery of a new COVID-19 strain in the United Kingdom and Africa has them worried about it reaching the U.S.

But experts say it likely sounds worse than it is.

Dr. Gavin Harris with Emory University said reports of the new strain being even more transmissible shouldn’t cause alarm here yet.

Harris told Johnson that it is normal for viruses to mutate and there hasn’t been data that shows the mutation is any more deadly.

“The No. 1 thing is to not panic. This is not a completely new virus and the approaches that we’ve been taking are really tried and true, no matter what type of variants this virus creates,” he said.

Harris said the two vaccines approved for emergency use authorization guard against mutations from the same virus.

“You’re kind of attacking it from all angles. and so if there’s one mutation, it probably won’t render that vaccine useless,” he told Johnson.

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Gwinnett County mom Tami Madden said despite the new strain, she need to see more research before she will take the vaccine.

“I’m wondering how it will affect the efficiency rate of the vaccine, if that will in fact go down as the strains of the virus mutate and change over time,” she said.

But Dr. Danny Brandstetter with Wellstar Health System says people shouldn’t be discouraged from getting the vaccines when they’re eligible.

“These strains are not going away and they’re out there. And we know they’re deadly. So we should be protecting against those at minimum. and if there’s new strains, we need to combat those in the future,” Brandsetter said.

Experts say the new strain is likely already in the U.S. For Lewis, she hoped the pandemic would have ended by now instead of evolving.

“Nobody could have ever told me we’d be where we’re at right now. And it’s worse now than it was when it started,” she said.

Experts and doctors studying the virus says more strains and more mutations are possible. But the expectation is that it would take years for mutations to become so extreme that vaccines wouldn’t work against them.

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