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Indiana doctor stresses need for COVID-19 vaccine as state sees cases of new variant

While there's no evidence that this variant is more lethal and there aren't any additional side effects, the infection rate is concerning.

CLARK COUNTY, Ind. — A new strain of COVID-19 has spread to eight states in the U.S., including Indiana.

While the mutation itself isn't unusual - it's very common for viruses to change - doctors say there is a cause for concern with this one because of how contagious it is.

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said the B-117 variant appears to be about 70% more infectious than the previous one. Instead of infecting two to three people with COVID-19, a person with this strain is likely to infect five or more.

While there's no evidence that this variant is more lethal than the first one and the effects of the virus don't last longer, the infection rate is concerning. As more people get infected, it's more likely that more people will die from the virus.

There is some good news: Evidence shows that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are proving effective against the variant.

"We need the vaccine," Dr. Harris said. Both Indiana and Kentucky are working through phases of vaccinating the public based on how many shipments each state receives.

RELATED: LIST | Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky, Indiana?

Dr. Harris said the Floyd County Health Department has the capability to vaccinate around 500 people each day, but the county only receives around 600 doses for the entire week. 

He said there are conversations about focusing on just giving out the first vaccine dose since there is such a limited supply, but holding out on the second dose reduces the vaccine's effectiveness.

"It's a numbers game," Dr. Harris said. "Say we have 50 million doses. You can vaccinate 25 million people up to 95 percent or you can vaccinate 50 million people up to 80 to 85 percent."

He also stressed that the vaccine "doesn't make you invincible." When the vaccine is 95% effective, that means that one out of every 20 people who get the vaccine can still get the virus.

His advice is to continue to mask up and keep your distance - even after you get the vaccine.

Contact reporter Brooke Hasch atbhasch@whas11.com. Follow her onTwitter (@WHAS11Hasch) andFacebook.

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