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5 things to know about coronavirus variants

The expert Local 5 spoke to on the topic is Dr. David Verhoeven, who specializes in vaccines and viruses at Iowa State University.

Polk County public health officials say the new variant of the coronavirus could be in Iowa. 

Local 5 spoke to David Verhoeven with Iowa State University, who specializes in vaccines and viruses, to get some answers.

No. 1: What is a variant?

"Most viruses when they copy themselves make errors," Verhoeven said. "Most errors are not beneficial to the virus, it leads to a dead virus. But occasionally, it leads to some sort of change so that it can avoid the immune system or some sort of gain of function."

No. 2: Variants happen all the time

"It's a very common thing for most of the viruses, especially RNA-type viruses like COVID," Verhoeven said.

No. 3: Scientists are currently studying two different variants

"The UK started seeing an increase in infectiousness, so that's where they really saw there was a new variant."

"South Africa is starting to get much, much worse," Verhoeven said. "That one has three mutations. When you have three different changes, the antibodies that the vaccines evoke that generate blockage may no longer bind."

No. 4: How effective are the current vaccines on these new coronavirus variants?

"Pfizer and Moderna have already tested against the UK and it works," Verhoeven said. "Surprisingly, they have not yet as far as I know actually tested whether it protects against the South African version."

"So that's something they are desperately trying to do."

No. 5: You likely won't know you have it

"They don't generally test you as an individual," Verhoeven said. "Usually what's happening is there is kind of a side study or departments of health are trying to survey what kind of variants are out there."

As of now, just a handful of states have reported instances of the variant.

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