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Q: I keep reading about new variants or mutations of the COVID-19 virus. What does this mean?

All viruses evolve or change over time. This occurs because the virus is continually mutating as it spreads. When a virus is spreading rapidly in different parts of the world, different mutations can develop in different geographic regions. These become new variants of the virus. When someone travels from one place to another, they can carry these new variants with them.

The reason scientists are concerned is because some of these variants are more contagious or cause more severe disease. Although recent studies show the COVID-19 vaccine is effective in protecting against some variants, the mutations continue and scientists don’t know if the new variants will be more resistant to the COVID-19 vaccine or if treatment will be less effective.

Most importantly, we still have a lot to learn about these COVID-19 variants, and we need to be cautious. That’s why it’s important to continue taking precautions like wearing a mask, staying at least six feet apart, avoiding gatherings, and washing your hands frequently, even if you’ve been vaccinated or have already been infected with COVID-19.

Michael J. Shea , MD

Critical care medicine

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793