The new Covid-19 variants seem to be causing a lot of panic and sensational headlines in Uganda. Evidence is now quite strong that the increase in transmission is caused by the new variants as opposed to increasing by chance.
However, it’s important for people to understand that thousands of mutations have been identified globally. The WHO says the Alpha variant was first identified in the UK in September 2020, the Beta variant in South Africa in May 2020, the Gamma variant in Brazil in November 2020 and the Delta variant in India in October 2020. There are many others being monitored including the ‘double mutant’ identified in India but as yet isn’t classed as a Various of Concern (VoC). The Delta variant is not only far more transmissible than its predecessors, but it appears to be more lethal to people of all ages as well.
What people should know is that viruses mutate regularly, especially RNA viruses. The mutations are in the spike protein but the vaccines in development or developed, are designed based on many targets within that region. Also, considering how many trial participants there have been across the world there hasn’t been any issues reported in relation to different spike mutations in those individuals and affecting their response to the vaccines.
When the Delta variant was first identified here in the UK, naturally people here panicked, too. Normally there are about 2 mutations per month but this new variant has 23. It’s thought the reason for this uncharacteristic rapid accumulation of mutations is due to a chronically infected patient over several months. When you apply treatment to a viral infection it puts pressure on it to change but recovery is usually within weeks. If you’re infected for a long time it allows the virus to rapidly evolve due to selection pressure from the treatment.
The main concerns are centred around whether the new variant causes more severe disease, reinfection and if it affects how the vaccine works. At this point there doesn’t appear to be evidence for any of these – current vaccines are effective against all the new variants so far. For the Ox/Astrazeneca vaccine they found 76% efficacy after the first dose. Using a 12 week interval between doses actually boosts efficacy to 82%. They also found transmission reduced by 67%. The immune response consists of antibodies and T-cells. The good news about the vaccines is they generate a robust response for both of these. Also based on how the vaccines are designed they can be rapidly altered to match new spike proteins.
With regards to the Nigerian variant, it has a particular mutation E484K that is also present in other variants including the South African one. This particular mutation appears to be a regular mutation for evading immunity. However, some vaccines have shown to work against this and others just reduced effectiveness.
An important thing to realise is just how rapid and transparent scientists who are involved in tracking these mutations have been. The unprecedented level of detail is a great sign that any significant issues arising can be rapidly identified. These variants are expected as immunity both from natural infection and vaccinations result in viruses with unique mutations to quickly become dominant.
For example, HIV is one of the most rapidly mutating viruses we know about, and this is the reason why it has been difficult to find a vaccine for it up to now, though trials have started on one of them. This is also why HIV/ AIDS receive a combination of antiviral medication each designed to target different aspects of the viral life cycle. This is all managed in the absence of a vaccine. Covid doesn’t mutate anywhere near as rapidly as HIV, is much easier to analyse and multiple vaccines are already available.
Basically, the COVID virus mutates fairly slowly. That’s why it’s hard to say if the Corvid Viruses spread during the 2020-21 campaigns are the ones that mutated into some of the current variants killing our people, but it’s possible, and you know who did a great job spreading the virus using rallies. Here in the UK, flu vaccines are constantly altered to match the circulating strain. The current Covid vaccines are the first coronavirus vaccines ever.
Funny thing is, even with blatant scientific fact people are still tending to refute back to their ‘feelings’ or ‘opinions’.
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