Variants of the coronavirus sweeping parts of the world are a stark reminder that despite the increase in vaccinations in North America, there are still millions of people at risk of infection.
Some scientists point out that allowing the virus to spread to other countries also risks putting the entire world at risk and losing any gains made through COVID-19 vaccines.
That’s because the higher the chances of the virus spreading, the more likely it is to mutate, said Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, chief of infection prevention and control at the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic.
“If we allow the infection to spread unchecked, in a month or two or inevitably sometime, we will have another species completely escape from all the vaccine,” Sampathkumar said.
“We’ll go back to square one. We [will] The entire population of the world will be completely invulnerable and at risk of death.”
Watch | The variant was first detected in India linked to the resurgence of COVID-19 in the UK:
There are fears that at least one type of virus, B1617, which was first detected in India in October 2020 and is spreading rapidly in the UK and sparking outbreaks in dozens of other countries, is more transmissible than others.
Researchers from the World Health Organization have determined that B1617 is spreading rapidly in India, making up more than 28 percent of samples from positive tests, the New York Times recently reported.
The shift indicates that the variant has a higher growth rate than other variants circulating in India, with the possible exception of B117, which was first discovered in the UK
“We should not imagine that more people may die from COVID after we have vaccines that can save them,” said Zeynep Tufeki, a sociologist and associate professor at the University of North Carolina, who writes on COVID-19 issues. “However, now with more transmissible variants and less equality in vaccines, this is what may happen.”
According to the BBC, there have been nearly 8,000 cases of B1617.2, a subtype of B1617, in the UK.
lately New York Times Column With the headline ‘Deadliest phase of Covid could be here soon’, Tufekci writes that while places where widespread vaccinations have taken place may be safe from the extreme effects of the variants, the variant could be disastrous.”
“Countries such as India and Nepal that have performed relatively well until recently, have fairly little immunity, and are largely unimmunised. A more transmissible alternative can burn through such an immune-naive population very quickly,” she wrote.
Sampathkumar said scientists are still trying to determine whether the variant first discovered in India is more lethal, causing a greater proportion of infected people to die, or whether the rise in deaths is related to the massive number of cases.
“I don’t know if it’s more deadly or not, but what we’re hearing for sure is that it’s more transmissible,” she said.
This means that for every two or three people who are infected for every positive case, everyone in the house is now contracting the infection, Sampathkumar said.
“If India is not contained, and if South Asia is not contained, the whole world may go down to where we were last year.”
Earlier this month, scientists in their testimony before a US House of Representatives committee warned of the coronavirus Variables They will pose a continuing threat to the United States, with the potential for rapid spread and reduced effectiveness of vaccines, the New York Times reports.
Salem Abdel-Karim, professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, told the committee that “over the coming months, we can reasonably expect the emergence of new variants capable of escaping vaccine-induced immunity, because the virus is under stress from vaccination. Widely “.
Different engines for variants
There are many drivers for the emergence of variants, said Sharon Peacock, director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, which studies variants. One such driver is uncontrolled transfers in the population.
“Although the mutation rate is pretty low, if you have a very high number of infections, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s low or not because you have a lot of chances for this virus to mutate,” she said in an interview with CBC News.
If there are high rates of transmission in a population that is partially immunized, she said, “you will get mutations that are selected for that and are more likely to evade the immune system.”
So far, Peacock said, no vaccine-resistant variants have emerged.
“The way to stop these people from emerging is definitely vaccination and lower infection rates,” she said.
“If you are a fortified country, it is closed [its] Borders, you will feel safe. But most countries do not have closed borders. New variants will continue to appear. and we I don’t know what will happen next in terms of the new variables.”
“Seeing the painful effects” of the impulse
“The global picture is much more worrying,” warned COVAX, a global coalition co-led by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines to the world’s poorest countries. She said in a recent statement that if the current shortage of vaccines is not addressed, “the consequences could be catastrophic.”
“Never in any stage of this pandemic have we seen such an urgent need to look at the challenges of the future and not be satisfied with the incomplete achievements made so far.” COVAX said in a statement.
“We are witnessing the dire effects of the horrific surge of COVID-19 in South Asia – a boom that has also severely affected the global vaccine supply.”
For example, the COVID-19 crisis in India had a serious impact on COVAX supplies in the second quarter of the year, to the point that by the end of June, the alliance would face a shortfall of 190 million doses. .
The organization called on world leaders to provide an additional $2 billion to increase vaccine coverage in low-income countries by nearly 30 percent. She also said countries with the largest vaccine supplies should redirect doses to COVAX.
Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said high-income countries that donate vaccines to low-income countries on the verge of outbreaks could at least help “reduce the harm.” . “
This means donating these vaccines “before hospitals are full – two and three weeks before they are full.”
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