COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Health leaders across the state are saying the finding of the first case of the COVID-19 variant originally found in South Africa is a good reminder the pandemic is not over.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported the case of the variant found in Jackson County on Tuesday.

The department says this variant hasn't been causing more severe diseases and it's still unclear whether it spreads faster than other strains.

Director of the state's health department Dr. Randall Williams said some studies have show the AstraZeneca vaccine is not as effective against this variant, but the three vaccines available in the United States have proven remain effective.

"This is more than ever the time to get vaccinated because these vaccines, all three of them are effective against all of these variants," Williams said. "And also if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, to wash your hands, social distance, wear a mask, and continue to be careful about congregating."

The director of the CDC said Wednesday the variant originally found now in the United Kingdom is now the most common strain of coronavirus in the United States. On Tuesday, Missouri said there were 35 reported cases of that strain in the state.

"As we look around the country at other states, we are seeing a rise in cases, we certainly are concerned that these variants, especially the UK variant, are very much a part of that," Williams said.

The state tests for variants from samples across Missouri. Williams said local agencies can request a sample be tested if they are suspicious it is a variant. One red flag is if someone has become reinfected with COVID-19 after previously testing positive, according to Williams.

There is always a concern that new variants can emerge that are more lethal, infectious or resistant to vaccines or treatment. Williams said that it is a concerning hypothetical situation.

"The more we can eradicate the disease, the virus, the less opportunity it has to mutate, so that's even more reason that we want to get people vaccinated to decrease the viral load in a community," Williams said.

Sara Humm with the Columbia/Boone County Health Department said there has been some data from wastewater studies to show variants exist in our area, but it is hard to decipher exactly how many have been found.

"As far as variants go, the mitigation efforts are the same, making sure you are wearing your mask, social distancing, staying away from large crowds, washing your hands," Humm said.

All Missourians will become eligible for the vaccine starting on Friday, which Humm said is the first line of defense against the virus and spread of variants.

"Even if you are in phase 3 and you aren't eligible for a couple more days you can still make those appointments and get an appoint say for Friday or for the weekend or the next week, based on what's available," Humm said.

She said it's a good idea to get a head start on research for vaccinations. The health department has posted links to all of the places you can get the vaccine in Boone County and Columbia on their website.

Watch ABC17 News at 9 and 10 for the full story.

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