Scientists Learning More About Coronavirus Variants

There is a shadow over this growing optimism about beating the pandemic. Scientists in labs are racing to sequence new variants of the coronavirus. Dr. Jon Lapook, chief medical correspondent for CBS News, spoke with a leading scientist about what they're learning.

Video Transcript

MAURICE DUBOIS: There is a shadow over the growing optimism about beating the pandemic. Scientists and labs are racing to sequence new variants of the coronavirus.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: For "60 Minutes" this Sunday, chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon Lapook spoke with a leading scientist about what they're learning.

FRANCIS COLLINS: What wasn't predictable for me, anyway, was that there would be so many copies of this virus that even a slow evolutionary process could, in just a matter of a few months, produce some viruses that we're worried about.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: And Dr. Jon Lapook joins us now to talk a little bit more about this. Doctor, what is so concerning about these variants?

JON LAPOOK: Hi, Kristine. Well, you know they're variants of concern, they're not variants of panic. But they are of concern, and the reason is that when you have these mutations, and one or more mutations team up, they can actually change the behavior of the virus. They can make it more transmissible, more deadly, or more resistance to our own immune system, whether it's from a vaccine that we've gotten, or a previous infection with the virus.

MAURICE DUBOIS: Oh, Doctor, when it comes to the variants in the current vaccines that we're looking at, everyone is excited to get these vaccines. What's the relationship between the two at this point?

JON LAPOOK: Maurice, I'll give you the punchline. Get the vaccine, get the vaccine, get the vaccine. Because right now it looks like there's a window of opportunity. So we don't know everything, but it looks like at the lab, the Pfizer, Moderna vaccine still work well against the UK variant in South Africa. The J&J, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even though maybe have a little bit of a less robust immune response in terms of the antibody response, or in terms of protecting against infection, it's excellent. Very excellent at preventing what we care about, which is serious disease, hospitalization, and death.

So we could have a window of opportunity right now where if we get everybody vaccinated, it will really make a difference. And we also have to do all the mitigation things-- the wearing the-- I know everybody's sick and tired of hearing about that. I know I am sick and tired of saying it, but we can't be, because the way we stop this virus from mutating is to stop the spread. If it can't spread, it can't mutate. If it can't mutate, we can't get the variants of concern. So do all the things we're talking about, and understand that these viruses, you know, we're fed up with it, but it's not fed up with us yet, Maurice.

MAURICE DUBOIS: Boy. All right, that's our only hope here. Dr. Lapook, thanks so much. We appreciate it. And you can see Dr. Jon Lapook's full report on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, 7:00 PM, right here on CBS 2.