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What is the doomsday COVID-19 variant, and why are scientists concerned?

doomsday covid variant
Photo via NIAID/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Emerging variants of COVID-19, including the delta variant responsible for a recent surge in U.S. cases and the more recently discovered lambda variant, are introducing people to the Greek alphabet in a way they’d prefer not to learn. However, there’s now talk of a new doomsday COVID-19 variant that could trump anything we’ve seen before.

According to Newsweek, a number of scientists are concerned about mutations in COVID-19 that are increasing transmissibility and case numbers. While the delta variant is the main cause of the recent surge in cases, the disproportionate numbers of severe cases among unvaccinated people indicate that the current array of COVID-19 vaccines are providing some level of protection against it.

But what if there’s a mutation that affects vaccinated people adversely and in large numbers? That’s the doomsday COVID variant scenario.

As Newsweek noted, the delta variant, more than any other variant of COVID-19 that’s emerged thus far, “has reset scientists’ understanding of how quickly a virus can evolve into devastating new forms.”

“All coronaviruses mutate, and we knew this one was mutating, too,” said Sharone Green, a physician and infectious disease researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “But we didn’t think the mutations would so strikingly affect transmissibility and possible evasion of immunity.”

The Newsweek article noted that specific features of a mutated virus will help it become a better replicator and spreader in the population, and those are determined by the environment.

As the article noted, “For example, in the case of a respiratory virus like COVID-19, the ability to travel longer distances in the air and to latch more firmly onto cells in the nasal passage, would likely make a new strain a better contender to become a widely spreading variant.”

“A virus’ job is just to keep propagating,” Green said. “Any mutation that helps the virus survive and spread will make it more successful as a variant.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in during a TV interview carried via 6ABC in Philadelphia, expressing concern that without increased vaccinations throughout the U.S, there is a good chance another COVID-19 variant will emerge that could be both more aggressive and pervasive than even the delta variant.

“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we really could be in trouble,” Fauci said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. it’s about everybody else, also.”

Sources: Newsweek, 6ABC


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