SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Local health officers in our tri-county area are closely monitoring the lockdown situation in London after learning that the COVID-19 virus there underwent numerous mutations within the past two weeks.
That includes Dr. Henning Ansorg, Public Health Officer for Santa Barbara County. He said the mutated virus is not yet in the U.S. but “it’s only a matter of time.”
Ansorg is especially concerned by the number of mutations the virus underwent and how quickly it happened.
“You anticipate, I don't know, anywhere from three to five mutations over a month, two months time. This particular one seems to have been able to, almost overnight, create 17 mutations in one go. And that is unheard of.”
Ansorg believes a mutation on this scale likely involved an infected person with a highly compromised immune system, such as a late-stage cancer patient. Now, some of the mutations are affecting the virus’s spike protein, the structure antibodies attack, potentially diminishing the effectiveness of the vaccines.
“We don't have proof that this is the case but that is obviously our concern,” said Ansorg. “Fortunately, genetic science is so far advanced we know exactly which part basically encodes the spike protein and we can identify what it looks like and what ways it's different. And that will be crucial in the months to come.”
Ansorg said if given the choice, he would take the new protein-making mechanism mRNA vaccine over the “tried and true” vaccines of the past, which used dead or attenuated bits of an actual virus.
“I personally would go for the new one simply because the efficacy is so much higher.”
He believes the mRNA vaccine is safe after 10-years of research, even though studies did not include humans and moderate to long-term data is not known.
Ansorg shared his 2021 timeline estimate for a local vaccine roll out: He anticipates one for the elderly in February and one for the general public in March.
Meantime, Ansorg said he is hopeful because the State is “deliberating” a request submitted late last week by Assemblyman Steve Bennett, Senator Monique Limon and Supervisor Gregg Hart for the creation of a Central Coast Region. (The change would remove Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties from the So Cal Region and allow local businesses and schools to reopen further.)
He said Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of California Health and Human Services, and other elected officials “promised to look into it and get back to us.”