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Coronavirus Chaos

Coronavirus Numbers Could Spike Thanks to Variants: CDC

COVID-19 Cells
COVID-19 Cells. Image: Creative Commons.

New, highly transmissible coronavirus variants circulating across the country “stand to reverse” the United States’ control of the yearlong pandemic and could “undermine all of our efforts” against the disease that already has claimed more than five hundred thousand American lives, according to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Even if you were not necessarily leaning towards wanting to be part of the global health effort, we need to because all of the efforts that we’re doing, that we are moving forward here in this nation, could be potentially undermined in a heartbeat from these variants emerging,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently told the National Academy of Medicine and the American Public Health Association.

“We know this virus knows no geographic borders and addressing this reality is more pressing than ever before, given the rapid proliferation of COVID-19 variants that stand to reverse the progress that has been made to control this pandemic,” she added.

Viruses like COVID-19 are known to continuously evolve, and what concerns scientists is that some of these variants might have the ability to at least partially evade antibodies generated by currently available COVID-19 vaccines.

According to new research, the United States appears to be incubating a number of its own unique coronavirus variants, in addition to the ones already identified in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa. That study was able to pinpoint at least seven new “lineages” of the virus that evolved independently of one another, though they do seem to display the same genetic mutations. More troubling is the fact that the mutations appear in a gene that influences how the virus enters human cells.

Most experts, however, contend that individuals shouldn’t skip the opportunity to get vaccinated even with these variants circulating.

“Presumably, these new variants evade the immune response that comes from natural infection,” Dr. Wes Van Voorhis, professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases, explained to me. “The good news is scientists are finding that vaccination can provide much higher levels of immune response and protective antibodies than natural COVID-19 infection.”

Vaccine companies are already taking a more proactive approach to fight the emerging variants. Moderna on Wednesday announced that it has shipped to the National Institutes of Health doses of a new coronavirus vaccine designed to provide better protection against the highly contagious variant spreading in South Africa.

Named mRNA-1273.351, the vaccine is slated to be tested in an early-stage clinical trial to determine if it can be used as a booster shot against the South African strain, which is also known as B.1.351.

“Moderna is committed to making as many updates to our vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control,” Stephane Bancel, the company’s CEO, said in a statement. “We hope to demonstrate that booster doses, if necessary, can be done at lower dose levels, which will allow us to provide many more doses to the global community in late 2021 and 2022 if necessary.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

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