Across the world, new coronavirus strains have started to emerge. The coronavirus and its viral variants known as COVID-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) became more infectious.
In South Africa, the coronavirus case rate doubled from the new virus strain. Hospitals filled up at twice the speed; doctors and scientists knew the virus had mutated. Geneticists and virologists sequenced the genome and identified a new virus strain. For scientists on the ground, the virus mutated overnight.
MUTATIONS EMERGE IN THE UK AND BRAZIL
At first, they found only the South Africa viral variant. Shortly after, mutated strains emerged in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Although these are different coronavirus genomes, they shared mutations despite coming from three continents. Scientists call this phenomenon “convergent evolution.”
According to a Wired article, COVID mutates slowly at the rate of about one genetic substitution every 11 days. Scientists can identify and track these strains. The worrisome issue is that these recent versions are more infectious.
The bottom line is that the virus is getting better and better at infecting humans through these new viral strains.
Scientists in the United Kingdom believe this new UK virus variant is between 30 and 50% more infectious.
MORE INFECTIOUS VARIANTS AROUND THE WORLD
From the United Kingdom, this variation went to Ireland and became the dominant strain in a few weeks. From Ireland, the new variant spread to more than 60 countries, including the United States. As of Tuesday, January 26, 2021, the US had 293 cases. The CDC estimates this UK variant will be the dominant strain in the United States by March because of its more infectious nature.
Scientists are troubled by a re-emergence of coronavirus in the Brazilian Amazon region in the city of Manaus. There was a previous outbreak there affected 70% of the population. The medical and scientific community hoped the town had reached herd immunity. However, a new crush of COVID cases is overwhelming local hospitals.
VIRUS MUTATIONS AND VACCINATION
Some good news is that lab tests from BioNTech, one of the vaccine manufacturers, show their vaccine works well against the UK variant, despite the mutation.
Another positive aspect of the current vaccines is that they have such a high initial efficacy rate, more than 90%, that even a slight drop from new variants may still provide excellent protection.
The Moderna vaccine seems highly effective against the UK viral mutation. However, small lab tests conducted by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health found reduced efficacy against South Africa’s variant. For the future, Moderna believes it can create a booster vaccine more effective against these and other new mutations.
Mutations show how urgent it is to get everyone vaccinated. Vaccination will slow the infection. By restricting the disease, we can delay its rate of mutation. If we don’t take it seriously, it could take years to stop the coronavirus and mutations.
All the expert advice you’ve heard is still valid – wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and if you have to gather, gather outside in the open air. We need to stop transmitting the virus to stop mutation.
There are practical reasons to get a vaccine. The first reason to get vaccinated is to save lives. Another reason for vaccination is to open up the country for businesses hard hit, such as live entertainment and the restaurant industry. Across the country, these industries are devastated by the virus.
Healthcare providers and facilities have also been at high risk for contracting COVID-19. Vaccinating everyone would make it safer to be in a hospital or nursing home. Vaccines and high rates of protection would comfort patients and families. Some had avoided healthcare facilities because of coronavirus risk. Let us try to get these patients to feel confident and get the health care they need by getting vaccinated.