By Siga Sakho
Image via wellcornell.org.
Even with the growing rate of individuals getting vaccinated and people starting to get back into life pre-pandemic, there is no doubt that COVID-19 has continued its presence throughout the world. With its rate of infection and transmissibility tallied through each pass of the virus from one individual to the other, there have still been cases of mutated strains of COVID-19 popping up around the world attacking and infecting the most vulnerable individuals in our current climate, the unvaccinated.
How COVID-19 mutations occur
According to the World Health Organization, viruses are like opportunists, in that they are always looking for ways to mutate and evolve over time. In the case of COVID-19, when the virus infects an individual and gets into the DNA, it will replicate and make more copies of itself. However, at times during this replication process, the virus will tend to change, making itself a stronger opponent against the human body. These changes over a period of time will cause mutations, thus allowing for a rise in invariants such as the Delta or Lambda variant. Furthermore, when the virus is in a climate in which it may circulate from person to person or population to population, it has a greater likelihood to replicate and create more versions of itself. In terms of the success of these viral mutations, most mutations have little to no impact on the capability for the virus to be infectious and cause diseases. However, if an infection were to happen at a certain location in the virus’ genetic makeup, the genetic material may be embedded to now have new (at times upgraded) properties. For example, properties within its transmission rate and possibly even severity, which have both been seen in the character of the delta variant when differentiating it from the alpha strain of COVID-19.
Newly founded mutated variant of COVID-19
Although there has been a lull in some states in the U.S of newly contracted cases of COVID-19, thanks to vaccines, viruses are still mutating and more strains such as the delta variant have been found all over the world, some of which making their way into the United States. When looking at the timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic and the history of its mutated strains, it can be found that the variant of the coronavirus causing COVID-19 known as SARS-CoV-2 has begun its series of mutations-some of which resulting in the delta variant, as said by Hopkins Medicine. The delta variant, known as one of the stains from the deadly lineage of SARS-CoV-2 first reportedly originating from India in the year 2020, has been later named as the “variant of concern” by the WHO due to it being the fastest transmitter, and is still referred to as being the most contagious form of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus thus far. Aside from the delta variant, there have been signs of new strains of COVID originating in England, Brazil, California, South Africa, and many other highly populated locations. In terms of the CDC’s approach to these mutations, they have classified the known variants into categories such as a variant of interest, a variant of concern, and lastly a variant of high consequence. Being marked as a variant of interest indicates how this particular strain of the virus acts when compared to earlier forms of COVID-19, and following reports explain signs of possible greater genetic characteristics. Some of these differing characteristics are shown through a greater rate of transmissibility, ability to invade the immunity of an individual, or severity in general. A variant of concern is one that has been observed to be more infectious toward an individual and even capable of causing breakthrough/re-infectious cases, infecting those that have been vaccinated against COVID. Lastly, a variant of high consequence is one that current vaccines have been found to offer zero sources of protection against. Fortunately, as of now in our current climate of COVID cases, there have been no strains of variants being of high consequence.
Variants and the vaccine
Although there have been newly found cases of different variants of COVID-19, the vaccines such as those created by Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Moderna have not yet gone obsolete. Though initially created for the Alpha strain of the virus, they still provide a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells making it even more important to protect oneself and others through getting the vaccine. As observed by the WHO, the vaccines created for the alpha strain contain a range of antibodies and cells allowing for a broad immune response throughout the human body. Additionally, it has been said by the WHO that even if there are changes or mutations in the virus it shouldn’t render the vaccine completely ineffective. However, in the event that the vaccines do become obsolete and less effective against COVID’s one or more variants, it is possible for scientists to change the composition of the vaccine. For more information on the current and up-to-date statistics related to COVID in terms of newly found variants and the effectiveness of different vaccines, the WHO has set up an outbreaks news page for further reading.
Although cases are on a decline, it is still important to know that the virus is still here and is taking every opportunity and measure it can in order to mutate and be even stronger and deadlier to the human body. There is no doubt that the science from the world's most trusted organizations such as the CDC, FDA, and the WHO point to the effectiveness of vaccines. As for the unvaccinated, children who are not of the age to get the vaccine yet should stay protected by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, whereas those who are of eligibility for the vaccine should heavily consider and research its effectiveness via trusted scientists in organizations such as the CDC, FDA, or WHO.
Written by writer Siga Sakho.