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COVID-19 Variants, Vaccine Statuses, and Prevention

Updated: Jan 28, 2022


[Photo Credit: Clinical OMICs]



How did we end up in this plight?

Have you thought about the reasons behind COVID-19’s rapid expansion? An array of factors have contributed to the surge of issues surrounding COVID-19, one of them being the mutations of the virus. At some point, you’ve probably heard of one of the many examples of variants ( the UK variant, the South African variant, or the most notable one, the Indian delta variant). Each of these variants have official scientific names but for the ease of the reader, they have been noted as their commonly referred names which make use of their geographical origin.


How exactly do the variants form?


All viruses consist of a protein coat that encases nucleic acids (genetic material) such as DNA or RNA. Coronaviruses are RNA-based viruses. The main difference between RNA and DNA is that the latter has thymine bases whereas RNA has uracil bases. The four bases in the RNA (A, U, G, C) have their complementary bases, whereby A pairs with U and G pairs with C. When the RNA is being replicated, an error may occur in the pairing. A may pair with G or T instead of U. This change in the genetic code is a mutation. The coronavirus has a ‘proofreading’ system that corrects most of the errors, causing it to have a lower rate of mutation. In the event of mutation, there may be no effect on the virus, or the virus becomes “better” and may develop resistance. If the mutated virus is able to circulate effectively, it will have a higher chance of becoming dominant as a result of natural selection.


In layman terms, the more a virus spreads, the more likely it is to mutate, and thus, the more likely it will be able to form variants. The amount of virus mutations is directly proportional to the spread of said virus. Influenza, a coronavirus, is infamous for mutating, which is why new flu vaccines are consistently rolling out.


What prevention methods are there?


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has provided an essential list of actions one can use to protect oneself from the virus and therefore, protect others. WHO recommends the following quintessential list:

  • Social distancing from others in public areas (healthy or sick) through following a minimum distance requirement established under local guidelines.

  • Wearing an approved mask that covers both the nose and mouth.

  • Washing your hands frequently with sanitisers or simply water and soap.

  • Avoiding crowded areas.

  • Getting vaccinated when the opportunity presents itself.


What are the Vaccine Statuses across the globe?


MEDCs began rolling out vaccines as soon as they became available, whereas LEDCs still lag behind. 47.3% of the world is partially vaccinated while 36.1% are fully vaccinated. With the increasing number of vaccinations (more than 20 million a day), we will soon achieve 'herd immunity'. Proof of vaccinations (vaccine passports?) will soon become a basic requirement for travel, public dining, and other communal activities.



References


[1] Nightengale, Laura. “How COVID-19 Mutates and How It Affects Vaccines.” OSF HealthCare Blog, 23 Apr. 2021, www.osfhealthcare.org/blog/how-covid-19-mutates-and-how-it-affects-vaccines/


[2] “How Viruses Mutate and Create New Variants.” Tufts Now, 9 June 2021, https://now.tufts.edu/articles/how-viruses-mutate-and-create-new-variants

“Q&a Detail.” Who.int, 2021, www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-how-is-it-transmitted‌


[3] Ritchie, Hannah, et al. “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19).” Our World in Data, 5 Mar. 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

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