New Coronavirus Variant Cause of Concern
The sudden emergence of a new Covid variant that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations has brought back harrowing flashbacks of the past. The new virus exploded onto the scene within a matter of days. The first cases of the variant were collected in Botswana on 11 November, and the earliest in South Africa was recorded three days later.
The new Covid variant may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences. The new variant has sparked serious concern among some researchers because a number of the mutations may help the virus evade immunity.
It is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random. Variants of viruses occur when there is a change — or mutation — to the virus’s genes. Mutations in viruses are neither new nor unexpected. All RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others.
The new variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen. Scientists will be watching the new variant for any sign that it is gaining momentum and spreading more widely.
The World Health Organization has classified the new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant as a 'variant of concern' and gave it the name omicron. It said the omicron variant appears to come with an increased risk of reinfection and likely has a growth advantage over other variants.
Coronavirus variants are classified in different categories by organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A variant of interest is a coronavirus variant that, compared to earlier forms of the virus, has genetic characteristics that predict greater transmissibility, evasion of immunity or diagnostic testing or more severe disease.
A variant of concern has been observed to be more infectious, more likely to cause breakthrough or re-infections in those who are vaccinated or previously infected. These variants are more likely to cause severe disease, evade diagnostic tests, or resist antiviral treatment.
A variant of high consequence is a variant for which current vaccines do not offer protection. As of now, there are no SARS-CoV-2 variants of high consequence.
There are many questions to which we have few answers: to what extent will the new variant diminish the vaccines’ potency? Just how infectious is it? Does it cause greater disease? And what does this all mean for the trajectory of the pandemic?
If the new variant omicron does fizzles out, as many variants before it have, the world will undoubtedly breathe a collective sigh of relief. Another bullet dodged. But it won’t be long before we find ourselves back in this same dance.