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'We're Concerned:' COVID Mutations Affecting The Effectiveness Of Some Vaccines

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- New figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that Florida continues to lead the nation in the number of COVID-19 variant cases out of the United Kingdom and medical experts are telling CBS4 they are extremely concerned.

Florida has twice as many cases as California and the numbers have nearly doubled in a week.

The CDC said Florida has 379 such cases, ahead of California and Texas, which have 189 and 49 cases respectively. The Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade told CBS4 that 69 of those cases are in Miami-Dade County.

Experts say that is a significant increase from a week ago when the CDC said Florida had 201 confirmed cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variant cases out of the U.K., with 57 of them in Broward County and 40 cases in Miami-Dade County.

"So as the variants rise across the country and we are seeing them rise across the country, we are going to have an increase in the number of cases over the next several weeks for these variants and it is certainly scary stuff. The virus is zigging and zagging and we need to double our efforts and not let our guard down," said CBS News Medical Contributor Dr. David Agus. "The sooner we vaccinate people the sooner we can stop the spread of the virus and the creation of new variants. Yes, yes, yes, we have to get the vaccine into the arms as soon as possible and not keep them freezing for any period of time."

Dr. Agus said there are more contagious variations of COVID-19 spreading.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious diseases expert from Florida International University, said getting as many vaccinated as possible is critical to try to get ahead of the virus.

Her message comes as South Beach saw huge crowds and little distancing over the holiday weekend.

Many people seem to be getting more confident now that the vaccine is in circulation. However, experts say this is still not the time to let our guard down, because COVID-19 continues to evolve.

Most recently, scientists have detected the E484K mutation, nicknamed "EEK."

"Some versions of the UK variant are now also carrying EEK," Dr. Marty said. "What EEK does is it makes a variant able to escape previous immunity. That's why we're concerned."

Dr. Marty said that means even people who have had the virus can get it again.

"Just today, I've been dealing with two patients that have the disease again," she explained.

Right now, these reinfections are still a relatively low number of the positive cases. As far as our current vaccines go, they do still offer at least some protection against the EEK mutation.

"It's not quite at that same level of efficacy, but it still does help," she said. "It still helps prevent hospitalization and deaths. It just doesn't get you to that 95 percent level of efficacy."

Some may be wondering if they should wait to get the vaccine until it covers more of these strains.

Dr. Marty said don't wait. She is encouraging people not to delay getting the vaccine if they are eligible.

"We really need as many people as possible with his higher level of protection to really overcome this particular infection," she said. "And we can always get a booster later, once we modify the vaccine to cover the additional variants."

Further, she notes that even if you've been vaccinated already, you need to continue social distancing and wearing masks, in order to prevent potential spread. The more it spreads, even by people who may not know they're carriers, the more the virus has the chance to mutate.

"We really need to get to a much higher level of immunity in the population to really prevent new bad variants from forming," Dr. Marty explained.

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