Yale researcher not in favor of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions yet in CT; vaccine rollout continues amid appearance of more variant cases

Coronavirus

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Yale researchers are weighing in on Governor Ned Lamont’s COVID reopening plan for the state that would further ease restrictions at businesses and restaurants in the coming weeks as a large percentage of the state gets vaccinated.

Yale researcher Akiko Iwasaki, Ph.D. said Friday that our state’s re-opening plan is too early and premature.

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“There aren’t enough people vaccinated in the community and there are variants that are already here in Connecticut,” says Dr. Iwasaki, who is a Yale professor of molecular cellular and developmental biology.

Variants the CDC considers “Variants of Interest” include the U.K. strain, the South African strain, and the Brazilian strain.

More and more people are testing positive for these new coronavirus variants. The CDC says the U.S. has reported more than 2,700 COVID variant cases as of Thursday. The vast majority of those cases are the more contagious U.K. strain, which is 50% more transmissible than the original coronavirus. It’s been found in 47 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Dr. Iwasaki says variants are more transmissible and more infectious for a longer time. The U.K. and South African variants have both been found in Connecticut. The South African and the Brazilian variants concern her most.

RELATED: Where do we stand on the COVID variants and how are scientists keeping track of them?

F. Perry Wilson, a Yale Medicine physician and researcher at Yale School of Medicine, said, “Certain variants may have more relevance to public health because either they’re more infectious or more harmful or more deadly.”

Dr. Wilson says the vaccine works quite well at preventing the disease from the U.K. variant. But with the South African strain, slightly less so.

“It’s not the slam dunk efficacy that we saw with the native coronavirus and the U.K. variant, so it’s definitely something we want to watch.”

He says the New York variant has one of the same mutations as the South African versions, which the vaccine is not as effective against.

“Will it have the same effect on the vaccine? That is something we’re all concerned about.”

He says the New York variant is also here in Connecticut.

“Yale researchers are doing their own sequencing and have found a smattering of cases – less than a handful of cases in Connecticut – of that New York variant.” He says mostly they are in Fairfield County.

And Dr. Wilson reminds people that vaccines that target variants will need trials and FDA approval.

“Moderna is already testing an updated vaccine that they anticipate will have more efficacy against the variant strains.”

But Dr. Iwasaki warns, “Even though we have very good vaccines right now, if we let these variants become dominant in the community the efficacy of the vaccine may be compromised. To lift restrictions, to go back to full capacity, even with mask-wearing, I’m concerned about another surge of infections going on here.”

Restaurants are a concern to her.

“Transmissions are really happening indoors and if you have a lot of people who aren’t vaccinated congregating indoors and eating and talking without a mask I do worry about the spread there,” she says.

RELATED: ‘It’s a great step in the right direction’: Restaurants, gyms, and aquariums react to capacity restrictions being lifted

Dr. Iwasaki also talked about preliminary evidence from vaccinating those so called “long haulers” who suffer health issues after recovering from COVID-19.

“35 to 40 percent who got the vaccine had improved symptoms, particularly after the second shot reporting much better symptoms.”

As for just when Connecticut will be vaccinated at what she would consider a safe level?

“Hopefully by the end of the summer at least adults are able to get the vaccine they need even the younger adults we’ll have enough vaccine for that.”

She says vaccinated children will take more time.

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