In the last several weeks we have been hearing news that a new variant, B.I.I.7, of COVID-19, first detected in the United Kingdom is being detected in other countries as well, including the United States. The onset of this new variant is bad timing since the United States is already in the top ten in the highest number of cases and deaths of any country. The new variant is said to be more transmissible than previous due to a mutation that occurred on the spike protein of COVID, allowing it to enter human cells more easily. However, though it has become more transmissible, perhaps 20-50% more, this does not mean it is more lethal, perhaps the only saving grace behind this mutation.
Another concern is if the vaccines that have rolled out can handle this new variant. According to both Moderna and Pfizer, their vaccines should be able to handle the new variant of COVID-19. Of another concern though is a different strain of the virus that has been detected in South Africa, which may not be defeated by these companies’ vaccines, but no one knows for sure. All this speculation is fueling more worry and concern. With countries around the world, even many industrialized nations, grappling with the second and third surges of the virus, there is no telling what more extensive harm can be inflicted by these new variants of COVID-19.
While the vaccines continue to rollout and a third one from Astrazeneca has been recently granted emergency use authorization in the U.K., it will still take time for the population of each country to receive the vaccine. During this time, it still highly imperative that people still wear masks, especially indoors, social distance, and use good hand hygiene. Another overlooked aid in these efforts would be more rapid testing employed much more often. These strategies, albeit a vaccine, could help a lot and countries should try as much as they can to implement such strategies if they have not already. The next few months will be telling post the Christmas and New Year’s holidays how strategic each country can be in their efforts.
Written by Usha Govindarajulu
January 5, 2021