COVID-19 Variants

Viruses constantly mutate, so new variants are to be expected. Sometimes new variants appear and simply go away, while others stay around. We know that there are multiple COVID-19 variants in the United States and across the world at this time.

COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus, a large family of viruses. Scientists monitor changes in the virus, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus. This field of study is helping scientists understand how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and how sick it makes people.

Some COVID-19 variants seem to spread more easily and quickly, which means they could make more people sick. At this time, there is no evidence that these variants make people sicker or directly lead to more deaths. Experts are concerned that if a lot of people become sick at once, hospitals could become overcrowded and our health care system could be strained. That could potentially lead to more deaths. To prevent that from happening, it’s very important for everyone to carefully practice all the recommended prevention measures, including:

  • Wearing a mask
  • Practicing social distancing
  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Limiting the number of people at gatherings
  • Getting a vaccination as soon as possible
  • Following quarantine and isolation recommendations if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19 or you become sick. People who are contacts of variant cases will be highly recommended to complete a 14-day quarantine.

What you need to know

At this time, research trials show that the two COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use — those made by Pfizer and Moderna — reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus to zero or nearly zero, regardless of the strain of COVID-19 a person is infected with.

Some people may be hesitant to get a vaccine that has a lower “effectiveness” rating based on clinical trials. However, “effective” is a scientific term meaning that an infected person develops no symptoms at all or is immune to catching a virus. People who receive a vaccine with a lower “effectiveness” rating are a little more likely to develop mild symptoms, similar to a cold or a moderate flu.

It’s very important that eligible people receive a vaccine as soon as they can, regardless of the brand, as all available vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness and death.

It’s also important to know that should a COVID-19 variant ever severely impact the effectiveness of our vaccines, scientists and health officials are confident that the vaccines can be quickly adjusted to effectively combat the mutated virus with booster shots. In fact, that’s exactly what scientists do with the flu vaccine every year, adjusting it to effectively fight the mutated flu virus.

Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating globally

The primary variants of most concern in the United States are the

  • UK variant (B.1.1.17) - identified in El Paso County
  • California variants (B.1.427/B.1.429) - identified in El Paso County
  • Brazil variant (P.1) - identified in El Paso County
  • South African variant (B.1.351) - identified in Colorado, but not in El Paso County

At this point, research suggests that these variants spread more easily and quickly, which can lead to increased cases of COVID-19.

Studies indicate that the antibodies generated through the vaccines recognize these variants. The CDC continues to investigate this. The existing public health measures, now including vaccination, remain essential to limit the spread of the virus and the variants.

For more information on variants, please visit the CDC.