CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Researchers at the University of Miami are playing an important role in tracking COVID-19 variants in South Florida.
“Because we are in Miami, at the nexus of the Americas, we will have early information about the presence of any of the variants,” says Dr. David Andrews, a pathologist with the UM’s Miller School of Medicine.
He’s doing research on the variants for both the university and Jackson Health System.
They’re screening COVID-19 samples coming into Jackson, hunting for the three known variants:
- The U.K. variant, which has 92 cases already identified in Florida — more than half of those out of Broward and Miami-Dade counties
- The South African variant, just identified in the U.S. on Thursday with two confirmed cases in South Carolina
- And the Brazilian variant, confirmed in a case in Minnesota
They are also conducting gene sequencing to search for other mutations.
Andrews laughs when asked if he is doing detective work, essentially.
#DigitalDeepDive: I know many of us 🙋♀️ have questions about the #covid19 #variants & how intersect with current #moderna + #pfizer #vaccines. The latest as we know it answered by @umiamimedicine pathologist & variant researcher Dr. David Andrews in this clip. ▶️ #soundon https://t.co/HRBGZTT3p0 pic.twitter.com/mcymvqztei— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) January 29, 2021
The U.K. variant it appears is more contagious. The South African and Brazilian variants are different enough from the original virus, and Andrews says they “have enough changes in their spike protein” that people who already got sick with COVID-19 could fall ill again if they catch it.
Also under review is how existing vaccines on the market will shield against them.
“That’s the main concern right now,” Andrews says.
But he explains why there is still reason for optimism.
“At the minimum, the severity of the disease if this were to come back will be lower in a vaccinated population,” he says.
Andrews says that while other variants haven’t yet been confirmed in South Florida, it’s likely just a matter of time.
And that’s why the advice of infectious disease experts remains the same: mask up and take proper precautions to stay safe.