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Vaccines prevent hospitalizations, deaths, even amid new COVID-19 strains, panel says

LI health experts discuss new findings on the

LI health experts discuss new findings on the COVID-19 variants and how to protect against them, and vaccine efficacy.

While newly discovered variants of the coronavirus may prove more transmissible, and perhaps more lethal, than the original strain of COVID-19, a panel of medical experts on Wednesday said scientists were certain that vaccines help prevent hospitalizations and death from the virus — and that social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing all remain important.

Participating in the Newsday Live webinar, titled "What to Make of COVID-19 Variant Findings?" Dr. Chidubem Iloabachie, associate chairperson at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream, and Dr. Uzma Syed, infectious disease doctor and chair of the COVID-19 task force at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, said amid all the continued unknowns about the coronavirus, vaccinations and sticking to the tried-and-true safety measures were key to winning the fight.

"You can't compare these vaccines head-to-head," Syed said of vaccines such as those now available from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson — or their use in the fight against the original virus and new strains that have emerged in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa.

"We do know 100 percent across the board all vaccines do help prevent people from dying," she said, adding that the MRNA-based vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer can be "tweaked very easily" to address new strains of the virus.

Now isn't the time to let our guard down, Iloabachie said, but instead we should remain vigilant to prevent any new surge in infections.

"We're considerably more prepared than we were this time last year," he said.

But, he cautioned, "at any point we can lose control of the virus — and we can face a surge like we did last spring."

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Syed reminded the webinar audience it remained "uncharted territory." when it comes to variants and vaccines.

"Every day there is something new. Every day there's a monkey wrench, something new coming our way," she said.

This means scientists studying the virus, its effects and its newest variants don't know if COVID-19 will be a seasonal problem, like the flu, or if it will ultimately disappear.

"We're vaccinating and that's great," Iloabachie said. "But this ends up being a race. How fast can we vaccinate the population — and how fast can the variants spread?"

For now it's best to stay the course, he said.

"The way you would protect yourself against any of the variants versus the original version of the virus remains the same. Hand-washing, social distancing, masking," Iloabachie said.

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