New Strain of Coronavirus: Three Things You Need to Know

With reports flooding in about a new strain of the coronavirus showing up across the globe people are wondering if the pandemic is going to start all over again. What does this new strain have in store for mankind? Exactly how much worse is the new strain? How will it affect the new vaccine? Luckily we have experts on hand who can weigh in on the situation and give us the information we need. Below are the three main points you should be aware of.

Doctor with COVID patient
This new strain spells trouble for the already overburdened healthcare system.

1.) The coronavirus is more contagious now and is spreading faster than before.

Scientists are noticing a spike in cases in the areas where the new virus has appeared. They attribute the problem to a change in the “spike proteins” within the new strain. These proteins are responsible for the virus’ spiky outer layer that allow it to attach to the human body and take hold. With these proteins becoming stronger, the virus has thusly increased its chances of infection which spells trouble for hospitals already flooded with patients. Fortunately, the protein mutation is all scientists have seen so far – COVID has not mutated in a way that makes it deadlier, only more contagious.

COVID chart showing cases spreading across the globe
With the new strain being more infectious than before, cases are spiking in areas it’s discovered in.

2.) The coronavirus is expected to continue mutating.

Virus mutation is very common and is something to be expected in any strain. The influenza virus, for example, mutates so often that we need new vaccines for it every year. The problem with the COVID-19 virus mutating is that we will have a hard time keeping up with it. This is because it’s a new virus that is incredibly widespread. With such a large pool of infected people acting as breeding environments for the virus to mutate in, the chances of mutation grow exponentially with each new infected person. This will make it very hard to keep up with the virus and make vaccines to bring it under control. Should it mutate in any way that makes it more deadly the mortality rate will increase as well. Luckily this does not seem to be the case so far. In fact, scientists are optimistic about the coronavirus’ mutation capability.

From what has been observed thus far regarding the genetic evolution of SARS-CoV-2, it appears that the virus is mutating relatively slowly as compared to other RNA viruses. Scientists think this is due to its ability to “proofread” newly made RNA copies. This proofreading function does not exist in most other RNA viruses, including influenza. Studies to date estimate that the novel coronavirus mutates at a rate approximately four times slower than the influenza virus, also known as the seasonal flu virus. Although SARS-CoV-2 is mutating, thus far, it does not seem to be drifting antigenically.

COVID vaccine injection into arm
Experts believe that the new vaccines will still be effective against the new COVID strain.

3.) The new COVID vaccine will still work.

Experts claim that the vaccine, which has already been rolled out, will still be able to work against the virus despite its recent mutations. Scientists are saying that the mutation is minor and does not call for a new vaccine at this time. This is comforting news since the vaccine is expected to be given to people all over the world throughout the coming year. Here are some experts who have weighed in on the question of the vaccine’s effectiveness against the new virus:

“There is no evidence at this point that immune responses driven by current vaccines would not work against this new strain.” – Stuart Campbell Ray, M.D. – Vice Chair of Medicine for Data Integrity and Analytics Professor of Medicine.

“…there is every reason to think that the vaccines will still work against this new strain, though obviously that needs to be tested thoroughly.” – Ewan Birney, deputy director general of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and joint director of its European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge.

“There is a strong belief here that the vaccine, as it exists today … will have effectiveness in warding off infection from this new strain in England, in addition to the old strain that we’ve been contending with for months now.” – Vin Gupta, affiliate assistant professor from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

With the new strain being more contagious than before, it’s best to stay home and continue to practice safe measures when going out.

So rest easy, readers, and just keep staying safe out there. We are all in this together and simply need to stay strong while keeping our cool. We are in good hands with doctors working all over the globe to fight the virus, and we must have faith that they will succeed. Until then, keep those masks on, stay home, and keep a stiff upper lip!

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