The New Strains of COVID-19

Marissa Schimpf
May 19, 2021

Recently, one of humanity’s most urgent goals has been to mitigate the spread and effects of COVID-19 and restore life to its “pre-apocalyptic” state. With the widespread distribution of vaccines to the public, it seems there is reason for hope. Despite this optimistic outlook, news of new, possibly more-dangerous strains of this virus have generated some alarm. However, medical researchers are conducting extensive research experiments on these new mutations and continuously presenting their findings. 

One prominent variant of COVID-19, named “B.1.1.7,” emerged just a few months ago in England. Currently, it is the most common form of COVID-19 in the United States; after its discovery in Massachusetts in January, 2021, it spread to every state by April. Researchers claim that it may be between 40% and 70% more transmissible than the initial strain of COVID-19, and this new strain remains in one’s body for a longer period, giving it more time to spread. So far, there is no proof that the B.1.1.7 strain generates new symptoms worse than those of “regular” COVID-19, and it seems that the current vaccines are effective against this mutation. 

While the B.1.1.7 mutation does not seem to pose a great threat compared to the earlier strains of COVID-19, less-researched variants could be much more problematic. For example, some experiments have shown that the B.1.531 strain, first discovered in South Africa, may not be affected by some vaccines. In South Africa, the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine ended after it seemed the vaccinations proved ineffective on B.1.531. This strain has now reached sixty-five countries worldwide as well as in thirty-five states in the U.S. Studies have also suggested that the Pfizer vaccine may not combat this mutation. However, many trials regarding vaccine efficacy against this strain are currently underway, and no current data provide definitive evidence supporting these claims. 

There are countless other mutations of this virus, but currently, B.1.1.7 and B.1.531 are the most prominent in the United States. Information about these strains is still quite limited, as many appeared only a few months ago. Even so, more conclusive data will likely come shortly, so the only thing to do at the moment is to remain optimistic.

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