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Science & Technology

SIU Researcher: Mutations of COVID-19 Expected, But Vaccine Remains Effective

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Dr. Keith Gagnon

An SIU researcher who has been tracking the COVID-19 virus says mutations are not unexpected - but the Delta variant may change the way epidemiologists and other scientists look at the disease.

We knew it was going to mutate. It's a virus. This is what it does - it changes over time.
Keith Gagnon

Keith Gagnon is an associate professor in SIU's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Sciences. He's been sequencing COVID-19 for months, tracking potential mutations and changes.

"When I started sequencing SARS-CoV-2 genomes, the point was to track its mutations. So, we knew it was going to mutate. It's a virus. This is what it does - it changes over time. So this was before variants were in the news. We weren't thinking about variants, we were thinking about genetic changes and how those would impact the disease."

Gagnon says those changes are now affecting how the virus attacks people - the Delta variant is more contagious, and in some cases causes more serious complications. In addition, it's more dangerous for young people than the previous strains of the disease, meaning doctors and health regulators are changing their guidance for masking and staying safe.

"Understanding how it's changing is extremely important, so that we can respond with medicines, update the vaccines. You know, doctors deserve to know and anticipate what's going to happen with people coming in with COVID. If they know that it's a different disease, or different presentation than it was a year ago, then they can prepare a little differently."

Gagnon points out the best way to stay safe from COVID-19 is to be vaccinated, and to wear a mask and distance when and where you can. He says while there are breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people, those cases are usually mild - and don't require hospitalization.

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