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In the race between coronavirus vaccines and variants, it appears that COVID-19 shots have moved ahead in the sprint to the finish line in Massachusetts.

The daily virus case counts in the Bay State have dropped by about 700 infections per day during the last month — a “very encouraging” trend even as the more contagious variants spread across the state, a leading infectious disease expert tells the Herald.

“We’re definitely heading in the right direction, and a lot of it has to do with the vaccines,” Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health, told the Herald on Sunday.

“We know we have more infectious variants and we’d expect rising cases because of that, but the vaccines are really keeping this in check,” he added. “It’s very encouraging.”

State health officials during the end of March and into the first week of April were reporting an average of 2,013 daily cases, as the number of estimated statewide active cases climbed to 36,775 infections.

But during the last week, the state reported an average of 1,301 daily cases, as the number of estimated active cases dropped to 29,717 infections.

This decline in cases comes as about 50 times more vaccines are getting into arms than the number of daily confirmed cases in Massachusetts.

“That’s a big deal,” Ellerin said of the vaccine pace in the state. “That’s what we’re looking for, and we need to keep at it and get the most vulnerable people vaccinated.”

Meanwhile, the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant — which was originally detected in the U.K. — has been spreading in the state. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s tracker of COVID-19 wastewater shows the B.1.1.7 variant in Boston area sewage samples for more than a month.

“B.1.1.7 is the dominant variant and is highly contagious, so you would think we should be seeing things rising but we are not,” Ellerin said. “It’s because you combine increased vaccination and natural infection, and you get a lot of community immunity.”

The trend reflects what health officials saw in nursing homes, where a couple months after the vaccine rollout, data showed a dramatic drop in cases and deaths at those facilities.

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