COVID Variants: What You Should Know

COVID Variants: What You Should Know

News media reported in December 2020 that a new coronavirus variant caused COVID-19. Since then, many other variants of the virus have been identified and are currently under investigation. These new variants raise the question: Are there more people at risk of getting sick? The COVID-19 vaccines will still be effective. What are the best things to do right now to keep yourself safe?

Stuart Ray M.D. is vice-chair of medicine data integrity and analytics, while Robert Bollinger M.D., M.P.H. is Raj and Kamla Gupta professor of infectious disease. They are both experts on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. They will discuss the latest variants and answer any questions or concerns that you might have.

Coronavirus Mutation: What causes the coronavirus to change?

Variants of viruses are created when the genes of the virus undergo mutation or change. Ray states that RNA viruses like the coronavirus evolve slowly and are subject to mutations. He says that genetically distinct variants are more likely to be created by geographic separation.

Mutations in viruses, including the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, are not new or unexpected. Bollinger says: “All RNA virus mutations occur over time, some more so than others.” Bollinger explains that flu viruses are constantly changing, so doctors recommend you get a new vaccine each year.

What is the delta variant?

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19’s outbreak has been mutated, resulting in different strains of the virus. One of these variants is the delta variant, which results from Pango lineage A.1.617.2. Because it is more easily spread from one person to the next, the WHO and CDC consider the delta coronavirus a “variant to concern”. Delta is the most contagious type of the SARS/CoV-2 coronavirus as of September 2021.

Here’s what you need to know:

The CDC recommends everyone wait to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before they travel internationally. It is not recommended to travel internationally if you have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This puts you at risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. This applies to unvaccinated children.

  • In the United States, Delta quickly became the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in 2021.
  • The virus that causes COVID-19 is known as the Delta variant SARS-CoV-2. It is currently present in all countries where SARS-CoV-2 circulates. People traveling internationally may also encounter it.
  • Children and adults who are not vaccinated should be aware of the importance of hygiene safety precautions, such as distancing and masking. Avoid international travel when possible.
  • Although being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may protect you from the Delta variant, it is possible to contract breakthrough infections.
    • The delta variant can be protected by all three COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the F.D.A. You need to get both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in order to receive maximum protection. Although vaccines can prevent the most severe forms of COVID-19, it is important to remember that breakthrough infections can still occur so be cautious after getting vaccinated.
    • Although the COVID-19 approved vaccines aren’t perfect, they are very effective against serious coronavirus diseases and lower the risk of death and hospitalization.
    • You may find other vaccines that are not as effective against the coronavirus, such as the one available in the United States.
  • Although vaccines offer very high protection against infection, it is still possible to contract the delta virus and other variants. Even in cases of infection, vaccines seem to protect against serious illness, hospitalization, and even death due to COVID-19.

What are the different types of COVID?

Ray states that we are now seeing different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus than the one first discovered in China.

“Different variants of the coronavirus have been discovered in California, Brazil, England, and elsewhere. Some of the more infectious variants, such as beta, Delta, and Omicron, may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated against earlier coronavirus versions. Vaccines are still effective in protecting against severe diseases caused by coronavirus variants.

What is a variant?

Coronavirus variants can be classified by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This variant of interest has different genetic characteristics to older forms of the virus. It is more transmissible, less immune, or can cause severe illness.

This variant of concern is more contagious and more likely to cause breakthrough infections or re-infections among those who have been vaccinated. These variants are more likely than others to cause severe illness, resist antiviral treatment or evade diagnostic tests. Variants of concern include the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.

This variant is of high consequence and does not provide protection. There are currently no SARS-CoV-2 variants with high consequences.

The new COVID-19 variants will the COVID-19 vaccines still work?

Ray states, “Laboratory studies have shown that certain immune responses to current vaccines may be less effective against certain variants.” For additional protection against severe disease and infection, those who are eligible for COVID-19 boosters need to obtain them.

“The immune system is composed of many components, including T cells that can respond to infected cells and B cells that produce antibodies. A decrease in any one of these components does not necessarily mean that vaccines won’t offer protection.

“All people who have had the vaccines administered should be aware of any changes in the guidance provided by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and follow the coronavirus safety precautions to lower the chance of infection such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, mask wear, and physical distancing.

Bollinger says, “We deal every year with mutations in the flu virus.” Bollinger explains that if there were ever a major mutation, vaccine development can be modified if necessary.

What makes the coronavirus variants new different?

Bollinger states that there is evidence that genetic changes in SARS/CoV-2 may lead to a more contagious variant. This is especially true for the omicron and delta variants.

He mentions that some mutations may affect the spike protein of the coronavirus, which is the outer layer of SARS-CoV-2. This protein gives the virus its distinctive spiny appearance. These proteins allow the virus to attach to cells in the nose, lungs, and other parts of the body.

Bollinger states that preliminary evidence suggests that some new variants may bind better to cells. This makes some strains of the new strains more sticky due to changes to spike protein, and thus easier to transmit.”

This post was written by a medical professional at The Wellness Firm.  The Wellness Firm provides onsite Flu Shots, onsite rapid COVID event testing, employee physical examination, as well as American Heart Association CPR certification classes. We have professionals that provide in-person hands-on, quality training.