Medical Monday: 'Double Mutant'

CBSN Bay Area's Anne Makovec talks to Dr. Dean Winslow with Stanford Health Care about we know about the 'double mutant' variant from India that's been discovered in the Bay Area.

Video Transcript

MICHELLE GRIEGO: We've been reporting on the rising COVID-19 cases in some places across the country. And joining us now to talk about that is Dr. Maya Artandi with Stanford Health Care. Good to see you. So my first question is, do you think that could happen here in the Bay Area? Are we in better shape with the lower case rates, and then this vaccine rollout?

MAJA ARTANDI: Well, hopefully it will not happen in the Bay Area. If you look at the nationwide rate, about 10% increase over the last week has happened. Now, we have an average about 60,000 new cases nationwide. But in the Bay Area, things don't look too bad. We have about 500 new cases every day. That's data from the last week of March, which is pretty similar to what we've seen in October.

Now, since February, the cases have really dropped. So between February and March there was a significant decline. But over the last couple of weeks, cases have plateaued out. And again, that's something that we saw in October. We have this plateau between the two surges. And this is why some experts are worried that we will also see another surge. I think though, it's really hard to predict the future.


MAJA ARTANDI: There are a lot of factors, right?


MAJA ARTANDI: So on the one hand, we are seeing reopening, restrictions are being [INAUDIBLE]. Especially young people are tired of social distancing, get together in groups, party. And then we have also the circulation of viruses that are more contagious. But on the other hand, we have the vaccine rollout, which has been quite successful.

And a recent census-- or recent survey from the American Census Bureau shows that people who live in the Bay Area are among the most eager in the nation to get vaccinated. 1 out of 3 residents who live in San Francisco has at least gotten one shot of the vaccine. So that's wonderful. And also the new data that the CDC shared this week, is that people who are fully vaccinated with either Moderna or Pfizer vaccine cannot carry the virus. So they are very unlikely to transmit the virus to other people.

And it also seems that the concerning variants, like the P1 variant, is much less common in California. We are now sampling different viruses. And we check 27,000 viruses, and only six of them were P1. So I do think that the barrier has a lot going for it, and hopefully we will not see another surge.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Oh, we are hoping for that. You know, you kind of touched on this a bit. But what's contributing to the spike in cases in some states? Is that the relaxed restrictions? We know that that's-- a state like Texas has relaxed their restrictions. Is that the variants, or just people tired of it all, and letting their guard down.

MAJA ARTANDI: I think it's a combination of all three of them. You see the governors and mayors and other states ease restrictions may be a little bit too fast. They don't have mask mandates anymore. No social distancing. Indoor dining is allowed. Then we have people who are letting their guard down. They want to not social assistance anymore. They want to get together in big crowds. I mean, remember the recent footage from spring break in Miami, which was quite concerning, I think.

And then we have the new variants. As the B117 that was the British variant is now circulating in the country. And it is more contagious and potentially also more dangerous. Again, the good news is that many people who are at risk for having severe consequences when they get COVID-19 have been vaccinated. So we are seeing a rise in cases among the younger population now.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: The CDC did issue new guidance about traveling. So what exactly is the CDC saying?

MAJA ARTANDI: I wouldn't-- we all want to travel. So unfortunately, even if you're fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends against traveling. And that's internationally and domestically. So even though 20% of people who are vaccinated have a higher risk or want to travel more, so you can see that, that people who are vaccinated really book more vacations. And recent data from TSA showed that last Monday 1.4 million Americans traveled, which was one of the busiest travel days since the pandemic started.

Many people think, well, now I'm vaccinated. I have a suit of armor. And I can do whatever I want. Unfortunately that's not true, because there are still so many things we need to learn about the vaccine. We do know that the vaccine prevents you from getting COVID, especially severe COVID disease leading to hospitalization or death. And again, based on the recent data from last week, we also do know that if you are fully vaccinated you cannot transmit COVID-19 to other people.

What we don't know is how well the vaccine works for the new variants. Against some variants it works really well, against the B117, for example. But against other variants, like the P1, doesn't work as well. And because the vaccine is so new, we still don't know how long it lasts. Data show six to eight months. But the longer we know about the vaccine, the more we will know.


MAJA ARTANDI: Now, so what I recommend against is international travel. I know we all are really tired of not traveling. But international travel can be quite risky. Because many countries have different and much more restrictive guidelines than Americans are used to. And those guidelines can also change from day to day. And then, if you don't know about that, and you violate the guidelines, you can be stuck with a hefty fine.

There are not yet vaccine travel passports, but that's probably something that's coming in the future. And again, every country is different. Mexico, for example, has one of the least restrictive travel guidelines. You can just go to Mexico. You don't need a negative test. You don't need to quarantine. Mexico has the third highest death rate from coronavirus in the world. The EU, the European Union, doesn't want anybody to come and travel. So they really don't want tourism from other countries-- the non-EU countries.


MAJA ARTANDI: And then, don't forget that when you want to go back home, you have to have a negative COVID test within three days of re-entering the United States. And that's the rule for everybody. So everybody two years and above needs to have a negative COVID test to come back into the country.


MICHELLE GRIEGO: Yeah our vacations the last year-- oh, sorry about that. I was just going to say, our vacations the last year have been camping. They've been very close to home. But at least if you could just get out just for a little bit, that might, I don't know, that might help out a bit. So, we want to talk about these vaccines. The CDC said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 80% effective after the first dose. What would happen if you got a second dose from a different vaccine?

MAJA ARTANDI: That's a really interesting question and something that has not been done. We have newly-- usually mixed and matched different vaccines. And Britain shocked the world, and many experts, that they did exactly that in January. They ran out of one type of vaccine. And so, they just changed the guidelines, and people got the other type of vaccine. They did that because of pure necessity. They didn't know if it was safe or effective.

And now, researchers in Oxford are proving that exactly that. That it's safe and effective. They are doing something called the Com-Cov trial, which means they are enrolling 830 people in this trial. And there are two vaccines approved in Britain. There is the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccine. The one group gets AstraZeneca first, followed by Pfizer. The other group vice versa. And then there are groups that get the normal two vaccine shot.

And the researchers are starting this month to analyze the blood of those participants. Now theoretically, there could be a huge benefit to combining different vaccines, because based on the vaccine mechanism it can trigger different parts of the immune system. There are, right now, 13 vaccines approved worldwide to prevent COVID-19, and 67 more in clinical trials. So we might have a huge number of possible combinations until we figure out what is best.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: All right, Dr. Maya Artandi with Stanford Health Care. Thank you so much for all of that useful information.

MAJA ARTANDI: Of course. Good to see you.