About a year ago, the world first learned of COVID-19, sending everyone into a historical lockdown. But now, with hope on the horizon through life-saving vaccines, new and more virulent strains of the virus have been discovered, leaving many to ponder one question “Again?”.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), three variants of COVID-19 have been discovered as of 2/1/21.
The first variant was discovered in the U.K. and was quickly followed with the South African variant in October 2020 and the Brazilian variant in January 2021. By the end of January 2021, all three were reported in the U.S.
The mutations in these variants have affected the pathogens’ spike proteins. Spike proteins enable the virus to enter cells, so an increase in spike proteins would allow the virus to take control of the immune system much faster than before.
With the original COVID-19 variant, the body had a better chance at fighting off the disease before it took over. Now, however, the body may not be able to fight off the disease fast enough given its ability to take over cells much faster.
Despite their virulency, the new mutations don’t seem to cause more severe illness. However, if cases increase dramatically, it could lead to more hospitalization which will overwhelm health care resources and result in more deaths.
One of the biggest worries with the new strains is that they may be immune to current vaccines. While it seems that the vaccine works against the strain from England, both the South African and Brazilian strain’s mutations have led the CDC to believe that this variant’s ability to recognize antibodies may have been affected.
If these strains don’t respond to the vaccine and continue to spread faster than before, further lockdowns and restrictions may be in store. Given that these strains have only recently been discovered and research is ongoing, a lot is still unknown. However, taking important safety precautions to limit spread will be one of the easiest ways to return to normalcy.