Maryland scientists closely watching COVID-19 variants, encourage citizens to continue masking and get vaccinated quickly

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — The U.K. COVID-19 variant has become the dominant strain across the nation and in the state of Maryland. In the battle between the state’s vaccination efforts and the coronavirus, Maryland scientists and public health officials are working to stay a step ahead by closely watching the progression of variants in the area.

As viruses replicate and infect new people, they will occasionally mutate inside of a host. Dr. Jinlene Chan, MDH acting deputy secretary for public health services said during an interview that many mutations often don’t gain much ground, but some — like the B.1.1.7 variant originally found in the U.K. — are far more contagious and easily bypass safety measures. This has led to many more people getting sick at once and more hospitalizations.

“As it infects more people, it’s more likely that those people who have the infection have complications from that infection. And so we are seeing an increase in cases, and at least part of that increase, we think, is related to the contagiousness of this particular virus,” said Chan.

While the U.K. variant is more contagious, studies show the vaccines we currently have work to prevent severe illness even from this strain. But a mutation could still develop that is more resistant to the vaccines, adding a new and more difficult layer to Maryland’s vaccine rollout: it’s not just about convincing people to get vaccinated, it’s about convincing them to do it quickly.

“It’s so important for people to get vaccinated so that we can achieve a level of immunity across our entire community and our state so that we can actually prevent the variants from becoming more and more of an issue,” said Chan.

Vaccine providers are in the process of developing booster shots, which could become common if more aggressive mutations develop. This is why, even for vaccinated people, masking is still encouraged and experts advise against large gatherings.

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