"My fear is that these new variants are going to really take off in the U.S. and we will see a lot more infections, hospitalizations and deaths." Dr. Ashish Jah, Brown University school Of Public Health, ABC News last night.
Frankly, I found the piece ('UK Struggles As Virus Variant Spreads', p. A8, January 25) about the UK Covid variant, terrifying. Especially quoting Jeffrey Barrett- Director of the Covid -19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Dr. Barrett observed:
"We're going to really have to contend with these new variants in the virus in the next phase of the pandemic."
What's the big deal? By some estimates there are now dozens of the variants on the loose, all from an original "shape -shifting pathogen" against which humanity now wages a 'cat and mouse' battle. Why are so many, including some - like the UK and South African variants (B.1.351 - now reported in SC) - with the former likely more lethal than the original SARS-Cov-2 strain? (A 2nd article on the same WSJ page refers to Covid and its "strain on South African undertakers" - with so many bodies there is a backlog for burial.)
According to Prof. Barrett this is a direct result of the virus incubating around the world, the prolonged incubation made possible by too many careless or lax citizens such as in the U.S. - tired of lockdowns or masking, or brainwashed by "individual liberty" canards such as spouted by Barton Swaim, Holman Jenkins Jr. and other WSJ simpletons. All this incubation arising from multiple lax contacts (e.g. no masks in crowded social settings) over time that provides the virus "lots of opportunities to evolve."
That sober take indicated to me is that the more "individual liberty" -obsessed we are about Covid protocols the more certain we are to get lambasted by a more deadly (and contagious!) mutation of the virus. It also fully exposes the recent WSJ op-ed balderdash of Barton Swaim, e.g.
"The experts on Covid should have realized the measures prescribed in their textbooks- contact tracing, lockdowns, shelter in plae orders- werr mostly unworkable in America - an unruly nation with a long tradition of non-conformity."
As the literal ravings of a lunatic who needs ECT three times a day and a lithium drip. So this fool would have argued from the outset for no special means to control the virus spread- and probably let 2.2 million die by now to preserve his precious illusion of "freedom". Still not grasping this is not about politics but a global calamity which demands collective sacrifice to get it under control. But this is what you get when supposed smart scribes let their assholes govern their brains.
Such political gamesmanship is also why the stupid blame game continues, to the detriment of us all, e.g.
Politics frustrate WHO mission to search for origin of virus
The key facts that need to be known concerning the variants now include the following:
- Viral variants are new versions of the virus that arise as a result of small changes in the genetic code. This is why genetic sequencing is so critical to keep track of the variants' emergence. Again, this is evolution at work: in this case marking a progression for genetic adaptation of the virus to outflank its potential human host.
- Preliminary data so far suggest the new variants are no more deadly than the original SARS-Cov-2 virus, but are up to 50 percent more contagious - which means higher infections, more hospitalizations and deaths. However, some other preliminary work shows the UK and S. Africa variants may be more lethal as well. Perhaps up to 30 percent more lethal. This is why if the vaccine rollout is too slow the variants could well overwhelm the entire U.S. (and global) health care systems.
- The UK variant has about two dozen separate mutations thus far, including some related to the so-called "spike protein" which helps the virus to infiltrate cells by binding to them and then breaching their outer cell membranes, e.g.
Image of spike protein of SARS-Cov-2 virus is shown with three small antibodies (pink)attached to its receptor binding domains
- The S. African variant has more than 20 mutations, including several affecting the spike protein. Unlike the UK variant it does not seem to be more lethal - while the UK variant according to some research may be up to 30 percent more lethal.
- The efficacy of the existing vaccines against the new variants remains somewhat uncertain. But most specialists agree that the fact the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines target the spike protein can confer enough immunity. Both Pfizer and Moderna have conducted lab tests on several variants and found the vaccines are thus far effective against all.
- The emergence of the variants means that continued mutation toward more contagious (and lethal) forms is still possible and hence there can be no end to the Covid safety protocols (mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding indoor crowds etc.) even after vaccines are administered. As one commentator put it on the Guardian UK site: "The vaccine is not a 'get out of the house' and be fancy- free card!"
Meanwhile, a group of Chinese researchers published a study in the Future Microbiology journal in August reporting that for some recovering coronavirus patients, anal swab samples still tested positive after they had tested negative through throat swabs. According to one of the authors:
“Intriguingly, SARS-CoV-2 detection was positive in the anal swab of two patients and negative in throat swab and sputum samples. We propose anal swabs as the potentially optimal specimen for SARS-CoV-2 detection for evaluation of hospital discharge of covid-19 patients.”
It remains to be seen whether Americans would accept any such invasive testing method. My bet is they won't unless they are already in special ICU Covid ward and such a test is determined to be essential to proceed with a given treatment, or before releasing the patient (perhaps diagnosed with a variant) to the outside world.
What they do need to accept - right now - is that there are Covid variants present in 29 states with the potential to spread unabated and bring our nation to its knees if protocol stupidity persists. The World War II generation of my parents knew the sacrifice they needed to make for the common good and made it. The jury is still out on whether this generation has the same capacity - or degree of patriotism.
Virus mutations add urgency to vaccination effort as experts warn of long battle ahead