The race the virus that causes COVID-19 has taken a new turn, the reason for which mutation are rapidly popping up, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely it is that a variant that can elude current tests, treatments and vaccines could emerge. A few pertinent questions are answers.
Mutations on the rise
It’s normal for viruses to acquire small changes or mutations in their genetic alphabet as they reproduce. Ones that help the virus flourish give it a competitive advantage and thus crowd out other versions. According to the report of TNIE, in March, just a couple months after the coronavirus was discovered in China, a mutation called D614G emerged that made it more likely to spread. It soon became the dominant version in the world.
Now, after months of relative calm, “we’ve started to see some striking evolution” of the virus, biologist Trevor Bedford of the Fried Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle wrote on Twitter last week. “The fact that we’ve observed three variants of concern emerged since September suggests that there are likely more to come.”
How many have been identified?
One was first found in the United Kingdom and quickly became dominant n parts of England. It has now been reported in at least 30 countries, including the United States. Soon afterwards, South Africa and Brazil reported new variants, and the main mutation in the version identified in Britain turned up on a different version that’s been circulating in Ohio.
What does it mean?
That also suggests that travel restrictions might be ineffective. Because the US has so many cases, we can breed our own variants that are just as bad or worse as those in other countries.
How can it be treated?
Some lab tests suggest the variants identified in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to antibody drugs, antibody-rich blood from COVID survivors- both of which help people fight off the virus. Experts are encouraging the development of multi-antibody treatments rather than single-antibody drugs to have more ways to target the virus.
Health officials also worry that if the virus changes enough, people might get COVID-19 a second time. Reinfection is rare, but Brazil already confirmed a case in someone with a new variant who had been sickened with a previous several months earlier.
What to do?
Experts say it is impossible to eradicate the new variants entirely. Loyce Pace. who heads the nonprofits Global Health Council, said the same precautions scientists have been advising all along “still work and they still matter”
What about vaccines?
Current vaccines induce broad enough immune responses that they should remain effective, many scientists say. Enough genetic change eventually may require tweaking the vaccine formula, but “it’s probably going to be on the order of years if we use the vaccine well rather than months,” Dr Andrew Pavia of the University of Utah said recently.