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OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler addresses threat of new virus strains, 'vaccine hesitancy'

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Bratzler 10/23

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler wears his mask Oct. 23.

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for COVID-19 cases per capita and warned of “more transmissible” strains of the virus in a Friday COVID-19 update.

With 56 cases per 100,000 population per day, Bratzler said 56 cases is a “tremendous drop” compared to the average of 103 new daily cases Jan 12. 

“About three weeks ago, we had 4,256 new cases per day, on average, in Oklahoma,” Bratzler said. “Today, we're down to 2,216. That's a 48 percent reduction in the total number of new cases per day in Oklahoma.”

Bratzler said there is notable rural spread of COVID-19 in Carter County, Blaine County, Murray County, Adair County and Comanche County with over 100 new cases per day, but cases in metropolitan counties are down.

“Oklahoma County is only seeing 42 new cases per 100,000 population a day, Tulsa County is at 62 new cases per 100,000 population per day and Cleveland County is down to 49 new cases per 100,000 population per day,” Bratzler said. 

Bratzler said the COVID-19 mortality rate in Oklahoma is increasing, now at 0.9 percent. He said the rate is about nine times higher than the annual influenza death rate. 

“This disease is much deadlier than the flu,” Bratzler said. “There were 29 new deaths reported today.” 

Concerning new COVID-19 variant strains, Bratzler said the United Kingdom variant has been identified in 33 states, is more transmissible and may be more deadly than past variants. 

“There's a new spike protein mutation of this UK variant that may actually cause some resistance to the antibodies that are formed with the vaccines that we're using today,” Bratzler said. “That's not proven yet, but again that's one of the things we'll have to watch for.”

Bratzler said the South African variant has been identified in five cases in the United States. He said there are studies pending on the variant, but it may not respond to current vaccines as well.

“The one important thing about the South African variant is that this particular virus doesn't seem to be treated well with treatments like convalescent plasma, or monoclonal antibodies that we often use when people have early COVID disease,” Bratzler said.

Bratzler said there have been two cases of the Brazilian variant in the US that were both in Minnesota. He said natural and vaccine-induced immunity doesn’t seem to prevent infection.

“In Brazil, where this variant now has become predominant, there are a number of people who have had COVID-19, recovered and then been reinfected with this new variant,” Bratzler said. “The vaccines that we're giving now might not work against it, and you might even, if you've recovered from COVID-19, be susceptible to an infection with this new variant.”

Bratzler said the current COVID-19 vaccines are safe and people need to avoid “vaccine hesitancy.” 

“I think the important thing for people to understand now is we're in the race,” Bratzler said. “If you get the chance to get the vaccine, please go get it.”

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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