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What to know about coronavirus variants

Coronaviruses on a blue-green background.

It's the nature of viruses to mutate or change over time. So it comes as no surprise to health experts that the coronavirus has spawned multiple variants.

Some variants have started in other countries and been introduced here. Others seem to be homegrown. 

Variants may spread more easily and quickly from person to person than the original coronavirus. And researchers are watching closely to determine if any of them cause more severe illness than the original virus. 

Why track variants?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies are keeping a close eye on variants as they emerge. They're looking for variants that may:

  • Spread more quickly in people.
  • Cause either milder or more severe disease in people.
  • Be able to evade our current viral tests.
  • Respond differently to medicines being used to treat COVID-19.
  • Change the effectiveness of current vaccines.

Will my vaccine still work?

COVID-19 vaccines produce a response that targets several parts of the coronavirus's spike protein, according to CDC. The virus would need to go through complex mutations in the spike protein to overcome vaccine-based or natural immunity. Right now scientists think that's unlikely.

The evidence available so far suggests that the antibodies created through vaccination still recognize and fight the variants. And vaccine makers are working on booster shots to potentially enhance the shots’ effectiveness against certain variants.

What you can do

Until you're fully vaccinated, you can help slow the spread of coronavirus variants with some familiar steps from your pandemic toolkit:

  • Wear a face mask in public.
  • Avoid people who are sick.
  • Keep 6 feet away from people not of your household.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Be alert for symptoms.

Learn more about protecting yourself and others from COVID-19 by visiting our Coronavirus health topic center.

Reviewed 6/9/2021

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