Brazilian variant, vaccine hesitancy among COVID-19 challenges in North Texas

Health leaders say there are two potential setbacks in the fight against COVID-19 in North Texas -- a new variant spreading in the area and fewer people getting the vaccine.

Experts say those challenges mean the region is at a pivotal point in fighting the virus.

"This is a race against time. What we’ve learned from this virus is it is picking up our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses and it has surprised us all along the way," said Dr. John Carlo, member of the Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task force.

Last week, scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center Dallas discovered the Brazil or P1 Variant among its samples.

"We are able to test around 20-30 cases a week, those that are high enough to be tested by sequencing and they are from all over southwestern and from all of those cases, from the most recent batch, we saw that two of those cases were Brazil variant and that represented about 7 percent of cases so far for that week," said Dr. Jeffrey SoRelle, M.D., UT Southwestern Asst. Instructor of Pathology.

The UK variant and others are already circulating in the area, but researchers say the Brazil variant spreads more easily and antibody treatments and even vaccines may have less of an effect.

Still, doctors say vaccinations are recommended to reach herd immunity the only way to keep the virus from spreading and mutating. So there’s growing concern among health care leaders over dwindling demand for the vaccine.

"It’s concerning that people aren’t signing up like before but I hope that they will consider these new variants as new motivation for getting vaccinated now," Carlo said.

Carlo says health care providers have their work cut out for them in reaching and convincing the unvaccinated. But he sees opportunity, especially with those who’ve expressed interest in the vaccine but may have been turned off by mass vaccination sites. 

"I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done before we just sell out on the fact that we are going to have so many people that are deciding not to get the immunization," Carlo said.

Carlo said the issues that have come up with the vaccine have been identified quickly and addressed. He believes that should be comforting since it lets people know the medical community is watching closely.