Science

The New Coronavirus Strains and Their Impact on the Pandemic

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The Three Major Coronavirus Variants

  • The United Kingdom Strain
  • The South Africa Strain
  • The Brazil Strain

The United Kingdom Strain

The first variant, discovered in fall of 2020, was from the United Kingdom. The virus strain, titled B.1.1.7, developed a large amount of mutations, and in the start of 2021, researchers discovered that the crown on the virus itself was genetically altered in the variant, such that it can bind to other molecules much easier and thus infect much quicker and in greater numbers. There is an estimated 30%-80% increased transmission of this variant as opposed to the wild-type(normal) variant that originated in Wuhan. With greater numbers, the chance of infection by transmission through human vectors increases greatly. Preliminary studies have also suggested an increase in the risk of death, but have yet to be deemed conclusive. However, experts don’t put too much emphasis on the severity; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown neutralization of the variant strain as well.

The South Africa Strain

The second variant, from South Africa, was discovered in October of 2020. Titled B.1.351, they share a majority of the variations of B.1.1.7. This virus has shown evidence of more effective binding to human cells via mutations in the spike glycoprotein, or the crown, as well as lowering neutralization by various types of human antibodies as well, extending recovery durations.

The Brazil Strain

The third major strain, found in Brazil, was found in late January of 2021. This strain, unlike the other two, has a decreased risk of detection by antibodies, making it more elusive and thus more effective on its host than the wild strain. The severity of this strain is furthered by the presence of many Amazonian tribes in extremely remote, isolated areas. They have a much lower immunity due to the lack of modern-day inoculation and vaccination against most infectious diseases, thus they are at an extremely high risk with the presence of the new variant.

These three strains have many similarities between each other, but all differed from the wild-type coronavirus in that they were more infectious and quicker in their spread.

Impact On The Pandemic

All three strains have a significant impact on the future of the pandemic. Their ability to better evade detection by the immune system is just a shred of evidence for how severe these mutations and variants could potentially become. As of February of 2021, daily COVID cases and deaths in America and around the world have steadily decreased to around the same level of daily cases in the fall of 2020. This is mainly in part due to extensive social distancing and isolation furthered by the colder winter season and the holidays. Although vaccinations are on the rise, 2% of the United States population and a very small amount of the global population has been thoroughly inoculated, much less than is required to grant herd immunity to those not given the vaccine. The future of this pandemic will require this continued level of social distancing and a steadily increasing vaccination rate to help the nation and the world return to some semblance of normalcy.

TL;DR

  • Three new coronavirus variants have emerged in recent months, and with the rate of daily new cases decreasing, coupled with the steady increase in vaccinations, people are left wondering what effect these variants will have on the future of the pandemic, around one year later.
  • The three variants are from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, and all three have proven to be more evasive, more infectious, and potentially more deadly than the wild-type coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China. The increased infectiousness led to an even greater rise in the number of cases towards the end of last year, but the correlation between these variants and a drop in daily new cases is unknown.
  • As the United States and the rest of the world start to pick up speed on their vaccinations, many vaccine companies have stated that their vaccines do protect against the new virus mutations, and as social distancing regulations are maintained during the holidays and the winter, experts predict that these reasons for a decrease in new cases overpower the capabilities of the new variants of the virus. The future of the pandemic is uncertain, but if social distancing is maintained this way and vaccinations keep increasing, then the outlook will become more and more positive.

Citations

https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/17/health/coronavirus-variants-spread-cdc-reports/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/types.html

https://www.wired.com/story/worrisome-new-coronavirus-strains-are-emerging-why-now/

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/health/coronavirus-variant-tracker.html

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