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New variants of COVID-19 discovered in Illinois, experts say vaccines still effective

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Peoria (WEEK) --- New strains of the coronavirus are popping up in Illinois, presenting a new challenge for local health departments.

As of Friday, 42 cases of the British variant were discovered, and one case of the South African strain.

But health experts expect those numbers to rise, as both variants are known to spread quickly.

"The variant strains do have differences in their proportion that causes binding to human cells," said Dr. Douglas Kasper of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, Peoria. "It has changed the ability of those strains of coronavirus to bind. It binds more tightly."

Kasper says it is common for viruses to mutate and assume new forms, but the concern is how to track those different strains.

Most labs in the US that process COVID-19 tests don't have the equipment needed to identify new variants - at least for now.

"The manufacturers of commercial-grade testing will have the ability to update tests to allow for variant strain detection in the future," Kasper said.

The good news is, data shows that current vaccines on the market are proving effective against these new strains.

However, vaccine rollout in Central Illinois continues to be an issue, and the weather hasn't made it any easier.

"Sometimes I feel like a magic 8-ball might give me the best response," Peoria public health administrator Monica Hendrickson said. "We are really adhering to not only production, but now we've learned this week, as well - weather."

Data shows these COVID variants are linked to a higher number of hospital stays.

But Dr. Kasper says we can use the same measures we use now to help prevent further spread.

Washing hands, social distancing, and getting vaccinated when it is your turn, to name a few.

Harry Croton

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