spike proteins of covid-19

COVID-19 Variants

As our knowledge of COVID-19 has evolved since the pandemic’s beginning, the virus itself has also advanced – in the form of mutations that have led to variants. Are these variants normal? What is causing them? Most importantly, what can we do to protect ourselves from coming into contact and getting sick? Learn more about the science of variants and how to prevent them below.

What Causes Variants?

In some respects, viruses are no different from any other living organism: they want to survive. When a virus invades our bodies, it takes over what’s called a host cell. But to attack more cells, the virus has to multiply itself.

paper human infected with covid-19 During this duplication process, these clones aren’t always exact copies. When a slightly different copy of the virus is made, this is referred to as a mutation. A virus that contains this mutation is called a variant.

The more opportunities a virus has to copy itself, the higher the chance of new variants. Essentially, the more people who become infected with any strain of COVID-19, the more variants we’re likely to see. This is why herd immunity is so important when it comes to stopping potentially dangerous viruses from spreading.

Are Variants Worse Than the Original Virus?

Some variants can spread more easily and carry a higher viral load, which is the amount of virus that any infected person carries in their body. While the currently available COVID-19 vaccines and boosters appear to be highly effective against the COVID-19 variants we’ve seen emerge since the beginning of the pandemic, not every new variant is guaranteed to be as responsive to vaccination.

For this reason, scientists continue to study these variants and how they react to the COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccine manufacturers may modify future vaccines to provide immunity to more than one strain, if necessary. 

What Do We Know About the Delta variant?

The Delta variant spreads at least twice as fast as the original COVID-19 virus, with a viral load that’s more than 1000 times higher. Fully vaccinated people appear to be affected by Delta differently than those who are not yet vaccinated.

While both groups can spread the Delta variant, the window of time fully vaccinated people can spread the virus appears to be much shorter. Studies also show that the Delta variant is more likely to lead to hospitalization, though the vast majority of these hospitalized patients are unvaccinated.

The Omicron Variant - Should We Be Concerned?

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization classified a new Variant of Concern (variant B.1.1.529, aka Omicron). To date, Omicron has been found in most states, including Michigan.

Like Delta, the Omicron variant seems to be more contagious, though scientists are still learning more about the severity of symptoms as well as Omicron’s responsiveness to the current COVID-19 vaccines.

At this time, it appears that the COVID-19 vaccines – especially when you get a booster dose, are effective against the Omicron variant.

In the meantime, following science-proven methods to prevent COVID-19, including the Delta and Omicron variants, remain more important than ever before. When we band together, we can end this pandemic for good.

What Can We Do to Prevent More COVID-19 Variants?

Variants are best prevented through herd immunity – specifically via vaccines, which introduce our bodies to the virus without the risk of illness. The more people who are vaccinated, the less opportunity the COVID-19 virus has to mutate into more variants.

To date, current vaccines appear to be effective against variants, but we cannot predict if that will remain true if the virus continues to mutate into additional variants.

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