Toronto, Jan 18, 2021 – New changes have taken place in the race against the virus that causes COVID-19: mutations pop up quickly, and the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more likely there is a variant that can evade current tests, treatments and vaccines.
Genetic diversity of coronaviruses
The genetic diversity of coronaviruses is becoming more and more, and health officials say the high incidence of new cases is the main reason. Every new infection will cause the virus to replicate itself, thereby having a chance to mutate, thus threatening the progress of controlling the epidemic so far.
On Friday, the World Health Organization urged greater efforts to discover new variants. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the new version first confirmed in the UK may dominate the US by March.
The CDC said that although it will not cause more serious diseases, it will cause more hospitalizations and deaths because it is easier to spread, warning that it “has entered a new phase of exponential growth.”
“We take it very seriously,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief infectious disease expert of the US government, said on NBC’s “Meet the Media” on Sunday.
Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University said: “We need to do our best…to make the spread as low as possible.” “The best way to prevent the emergence of mutant strains is to slow down the rate of spread.” So far, the vaccine seems to still be effective, but there are signs that some new mutations may disrupt testing for the virus and reduce the effectiveness of antibody drugs as a treatment.
“We are in a race against time,” said Dr. Padis Sabetti, an extensive evolutionary biologist at MIT and Harvard University, because this virus “may find mutations accidentally, making it even more dangerous.”
She warned that young people may be reluctant to wear masks, avoid crowds and take other steps to avoid infection, because the current pressure does not seem to make them very sick, but a mutation may occur.
Sabeti recorded changes in the Ebola virus during the 2014 outbreak, which made the situation worse.
A rapid increase in COVID-19 mutations
It is normal for viruses to obtain small changes or mutations in genetic letters during reproduction. Software that helps viruses thrive can give it a competitive advantage, thereby excluding other versions.
In March of this year, only a few months after the discovery of the coronavirus in China, a mutation called D614G appeared, which made it easier to spread. It quickly became the dominant version in the world.
Trevor Bedford, a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, wrote on Twitter last week that now, after months of relative calm, the virus’s “we have started See some amazing evolution”. “Since September, we have observed three interesting changes, and this fact suggests that there may be more changes.”
One of them was first discovered in the UK and quickly became dominant in parts of the UK. It has been reported in at least 30 countries, including the United States.
Soon thereafter, South Africa and Brazil reported new variants. On Tuesday, researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said that another new mutation was found in one-third of COVID-19 cases in the city, which may have contributed to its recent surge in cases.
Dr. Dan Jones, a molecular pathologist at Ohio State University, said that in the version identified in the UK, the major mutations also appeared in “at least a different version issued in Ohio in September.” Found last week.
Jones said: “The important finding here is that this is unlikely to be related to travel,” and may reflect that the virus will independently acquire similar mutations as more infections occur.
Mina said this also indicates that travel restrictions may not be effective. He said that because there are too many cases in the United States, “we can breed our own variants, spoiled or deteriorated.”
Treatment, vaccine, risk of reinfection
Some laboratory tests indicate that the variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to antibody drugs or convalescent plasma, antibody-rich blood from COVID-19 survivors-both help people fight the virus .
Dr. Janet Woodcock of the US Food and Drug Administration told reporters on Thursday that government scientists are “actively investigating” this possibility. She said the government is encouraging the development of multiple antibody treatments, rather than single antibody drugs, so that there are more ways to target the virus, just in case.
Many scientists say that current vaccines can induce a sufficiently broad immune response and therefore should remain effective. Sufficient genetic changes may eventually require adjustments to vaccine formulations, but “if we use vaccines well, instead of months, it may take years,” Dr. Andrew Pavia of the University of Utah hosted on Thursday Said on the webcast. American Academy of Infectious Diseases.