If the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread worldwide, vaccines could become ineffective and strains could escape immunity. The right vaccines need to go to the places where they are needed.
According to genome databases, such as nextstrain.org, there are now more than 1,000 known variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus.
Up to now, the “variants of concern” have been named after the places where they were first discovered. But in a move to avoid denouncing particular countries, the World Health Organization has now introduced a new naming system based on the letters of the Greek alphabet. The UK/Kent, South African, Brazilian and Indian variants will now be given the letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta respectively. But the labels will not replace their more complex scientific names.
Whereas the latest variant discovered in Vietnam appears to be a cross between Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Delta (B.1.617), the new variant spreads “quickly by air”, which can easily explain the rapid increase of the Covid cases in the month of May.
The new variants in Asia and elsewhere should be of concern to everyone wherever they live. And that is not just because it means that the pandemic will continue to cause more suffering and deprivation worldwide.
In a globalized world, such variants spread fast. And if these new strains increasingly adapt to their human hosts and mutate rapidly, in this case, antibodies formed either by vaccination or infection won’t protect us at some point. Similarly, the antigen or PCR tests would no longer detect the variants and instead produce false negatives. And the vaccinations available would also gradually stop working.
That makes it extremely vital to recognize variants as quickly as possible using genetic sequencing and to ensure that sufficient amounts of the right types of vaccines are available globally and not just in wealthy nations.