The COVID-19 race is tightening. The winner will determine the fate of the entire world’s peoples. The contestants are the COVID-19 virus variants(s) and the COVID-19 virus vaccines(s).
The battle is ongoing and intense and its outcome depends, for the most part, on all of us. The vaccine rollout is increasing but the variants are spreading. Those variants will soon make up most of the new cases. (May 2021)
Four Different Current Strains
Currently, there are four different known variant strains. They are the U.K., South African, Brazilian, and Nigerian variants with the U.K variant the most common.
How Do Variant Strains Occur?
Variants occur because every time the COVID-19 virus infects a person, it makes copies of itself over and over as it infects more cells. With every new copy the virus makes of itself, there is a potential for an error or mutation to be introduced into the virus’s genetic code.
An uncontrolled spread of a virus increases the chances for errors to occur since the virus will have more opportunities to replicate itself. Some of those errors will be harmless but with more opportunities to copy itself, a virus is more likely to mutate in a dangerous way.
We will probably never have to worry about a variant coming from those countries that did a good job at controlling their outbreaks, such as New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan, because the virus had little or no opportunity to evolve.
Different Strains But Still the Same Virus
It is important to understand that even though there are new variants, they are still the same virus. The same public health measures that have served us well until now will still be necessary to contain the spread of the new variants and prevent the development of newer ones.
The new variants may be more infectious, so staying close to home, wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands will still substantially decrease the risk of being infected. These measures will lower the community spread and thus lower the overall risk to everyone.
The Current Vaccines Provide Broad Enough Protection
The vaccines we currently have and those others that may become available should eventually provide broad enough protection against COVID-19, but we are still a long way from vaccinating the majority of the world’s populations.
Although the current vaccines may not protect us totally against new variants, the data at this time suggests they may, especially with the U.K. variant. There is, however, always the possibility that we may have to create updated vaccines or boosters against whatever the main strain will be at the time, much as we do each year with the flu virus. Pharmaceutical companies are already working with this possibility in mind.
Vaccines Do NOT Promote Resistant Viral Strains!
It is important to understand that vaccines do NOT promote resistant viral strains as some anti-vaxers claim. What they do accomplish is the prevention of infections and the reduction of daily case numbers, thus giving the virus fewer opportunities to mutate and a lesser chance of the development of new strains.
Vaccines or Variants? Which contestant will win the COVID-19 race? Of course, we should want the vaccines to win this race!
What Can We All Do?
We can all help by following public health guidelines consistently and by getting vaccinated as soon as possible, as well as encouraging others to do so. That way we should be able to slow down the variants and eventually contain the virus.
An Uncertain Future?
Unfortunately, the future is uncertain. There is still so much to be learned about how to control and contain the virus and its variants as well as the efficacy of current and future vaccines. So we must not let down our guard.
Be aware of new information. Stay safe by following scientific health guidelines. Wear masks where required, social distance, and keep washing hands regularly. We are all in this together.
Please Note: Information from the McGill Office for Science and Society was used by permission for this article.