Amarillo hospital leaders encourage more vaccinations to beat variants

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — COVID-19 variants are not prevalent in our community right now, but Amarillo hospital leaders remain concerned. During Wednesday’s COVID-19 press briefing, they stressed that vaccinations can help us stay one step ahead of variants.

Two COVID-19 variants were identified earlier this month from samples taken at Northwest Texas Hospital. Since then, hospital officials have said no other cases are confirmed at NWTH or BSA Hospital.

NWTH said neither of those two variants was the U.K. or South African variants.

NWTH’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brian Weis, said on Wednesday, “A variant is the same as a mutation, and what that means is that the virus has changed part of its genetic material.”

Dr. Weis said once the genetic material is altered, it produces a change in the structure or the appearance of the virus.

“Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they give our bodies a message on how to make a single very important protein of this virus called the spike protein, so that our immune system will recognize it. Now, when a protein is made, it folds into a very complicated structure. So, when the immune system tries to look at, ‘How do I recognize this protein next time, and raise the antibodies?’ It picks little tiny parts of that protein and maybe a particular fold or particular twist on the surface of that protein to raise antibodies against,” Dr. Weis said.

According to Dr. Weis, those physical changes in the virus variants could mean our immune systems will not recognize them and raise antibodies.

“That is our worry about these variants is, the antibodies that we raise, will they be defeated by the fact that the virus changes with the structure of the protein?” Dr. Weis said. “Now that part of the protein is no longer exposed where the antibody is identified.”

He said right now, more than 60 variants identified worldwide.

“This is critical because the more that we can get vaccinated, and the less we can let this virus reproduce, the less mutations it can produce and get around these vaccines. So, again all the more important while we’re in this race to vaccinate everybody, to try to get a good step ahead of the virus as it continues to try to mutate.”

Dr. Weis said researchers believe the vaccine does recognize the U.K. variant, but that is not necessarily true for the South African variant.

Earlier this week, Texas A&M University researchers have identified a new COVID-19 variant called BV-1, after Brazos Valley, where it originated.

Although only one mild case has been confirmed, researchers are worried that the variant shows resistance to antibodies.

When asked about the BV-1 variant on Wednesday, Dr. Weis said, “Every variant is a problem because again, we just don’t know whether or not it’s going to have that magical fold that gets around the antibodies generated by the vaccine. So hopefully we won’t we won’t be bothered by the South Texas variant.”

BSA Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Lamanteer, offered some advice to people on whether to get vaccinated.

“The concern should be, are you going to get infected with COVID-19? Is it going to be one of these variants potentially? Is it going to be a strain that has the likelihood of causing more severe disease?” Dr. Michael Lamanteer asked. “And if you do get that type of infection, what is going to be your clinical course? Is it going to be fairly benign, you’re going to recover? Are you going to be someone who gets infected and is fortunate enough to survive, but has lingering symptomatology for weeks or months? Or you’re going to be one of the most unfortunate that gets infected and succumbs to disease? Whether or not you have an immunocompromised state or not.”

Dr. Lamanteer continued, “I really think it’s critical to think about your own station, and again, re-evaluate why you would not get vaccinated and attempt to use the scientific approach to making that determination.”

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