Things That Matter

These Are The Five Emerging Coronavirus Variants That Worry Health Experts The Most

As soon as the latest strain of coronavirus that caused COVID-19 infection burst onto the world stage in late 2019, medical experts and scientists knew it was bad. However, most in the medical community also thought the virus was stable and would resist mutations – which could buy us time while we develop treatments and vaccines.

Researchers were only partly right. The virus is definitely bad—but it is not so stable after all. Ever since jumping from animals to humans, the virus has been undergoing rapid shifts in mutations leading to several new variants of the original virus in recent months.

The COVID-19 virus is rapidly mutating and presenting challenges for researchers and our vaccine roll out.

Since the pandemic began, new viral versions of the virus have been popping up in communities around the world, and in some cases have outcompeted the existing variants. Although improved surveillance and sequencing efforts might partly explain why these variants are appearing now, some repetition in their patterns suggest the mutations are not random.

“What we’re seeing is similar mutations arising in multiple places,” Adam Lauring, a virologist at the University of Michigan, told Scientific American. “That’s pretty suggestive that these mutations are doing something.”

Most of these mutations in the virus seem to help the virus transmit more rapidly and evade the body’s immune system. In fact, in January, researchers reported for the first time that antibodies from individuals with COVID did not completely neutralize a variant first identified in South Africa. A few people who recovered from the disease also appear to have been reinfected with the mutant virus.

But which variants of the virus have scientists most worried and why?

SPAIN

The 20A.EU1 variant, first identified in Spain, contains a mutation called A222V on the viral spike protein. The spike is a component of SARS-CoV-2 that binds to a receptor on human cells called ACE2, and this attachment helps the virus get inside those cells and infect them.

This spike protein is also what is targeted by human antibodies when they fight back against the infection. Over the course of several months, the 20A.EU1 variant became the dominant one in Europe. Epidemiologists never saw any evidence that it was more transmissible than the original, however. Researchers believe that when Europe began lifting travel restrictions last summer, the variant that was dominant in Spain spread across the continent.

U.K.

Scientists in the U.K. had been watching the B.1.1.7 variant for some time before announcing in December that it might be at least 50 percent more transmissible than the original form. That announcement was based on data that showed the virus rapidly spreading throughout the nation. And it led to international travel bans and stronger lockdown measures in the U.K.

South Africa

The B.1.351 variant appeared around the same time as B.1.1.7 in the U.K., and it spread quickly in South Africa to become the dominant version in that country. But scientists are most concerned about its E484K mutation which may help the virus evade the immune system and vaccines.

A lab also found that some antibody cocktails, such as one currently being tested by the drug and biotech companies Regeneron and Eli Lilly, may be less effective against mutations present in the B.1.351 variant.

Brazil

In January researchers reported they had detected two new variants in Brazil, both descendants of a somewhat older common ancestor variant. Although they share mutations with other newly discovered versions, they appear to have arisen independently of those variants.

Vaccines are so far still potent against these strains but we must be vigilant.

So far researchers haven’t seen any major concerns among the vaccines made by by Moderna and Pfizer and their ability to protect against COVID-19 infection. However, Moderna has begun developing a booster shot specific to new variants. Because these two vaccines are more than 90 percent effective, a slight drop in effectiveness would still make them worth using, experts say.

“I’m optimistic this won’t compromise the [COVID vaccines], but obviously, it’s something we’ve got to watch closely,” Lauring told Scientific American. In coming years, he adds, companies may need to retool these vaccines and administer updated versions, much in the same way that flu vaccines are revised each year.

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Even Though He Couldn’t Cross The Border, This Abuelo Sang ‘Las Mañanitas’ To His Grandson From Across The Rio Grande

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Even Though He Couldn’t Cross The Border, This Abuelo Sang ‘Las Mañanitas’ To His Grandson From Across The Rio Grande

GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP via Getty Images

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been overwhelmed with stories about people being kept apart by the virus. But despite the challenges that so many of us have faced during this pandemic, we find a way to make things work. And that’s exactly what this grandfather (who lives near the U.S-Mexico border) did to make sure that we was able to spend time with his grandson as he celebrated his 4th birthday.

Thanks to travel restrictions they couldn’t be together but they found a way to celebrate.

A heartwarming video is trending on Mexican social media showing a grandfather making his way to the U.S.-Mexico border to wish his four-year-old grandson a happy birthday. Although they couldn’t be together because of travel restrictions thanks to COVID-19, the grandfather managed to sing the traditional Mexican birthday song Las Mañanitas to his grandson, who listened from the other side of the Rio Grande in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

The user who uploaded the video to YouTube identified the man as Isidro González and his grandson as Santiago.

With microphone, keyboard and speakers in Eagle Pass, Texas, Grandpa asks about his grandson. “Santiago, where are you? He raises his hand” and the video shows Santi. “I love you. I love you very much ”, you can hear the grandfather shouting and the grandson replies that he does too.

“Congratulations, Santiago. He is turning 4 years old ”, says the grandfather and the singing begins.

For many families residing in Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, the pandemic restrictions imposed by the United States have meant they cannot cross the border to see family. González did not let that stop him from wishing his grandson a very happy birthday.

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Mexicans Travel To U.S. For ‘Vaccine Tourism’ Say It’s A Matter Of Survival

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Mexicans Travel To U.S. For ‘Vaccine Tourism’ Say It’s A Matter Of Survival

Jorge Saenz / AP / Getty Images

The United States is one of the world’s most successful countries when it comes to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine program. So far, more than 200 million vaccines have been administered across the U.S. and as of this week anyone over the age of 16 is now eligible.

Meanwhile, in many countries around the world – including Mexico – the vaccine roll out is still highly restricted. For many, who can afford to travel, they see the best option at a shot in the arm to take a trip to the U.S. where many locations are reporting a surplus in vaccines.

Wealthy Latin Americans travel to U.S. to get COVID vaccines.

People of means from Latin America are chartering planes, booking commercial flights, buying bus tickets and renting cars to get the vaccine in the United States due to lack of supply back in their home countries. Some of those making the trip include politicians, TV personalities, business executives and a soccer team.

There is an old Mexican joke: God tells a Mexican he has only a week left to live but can ask for one final wish, no matter how outrageous. So the Mexican asks for a ticket to Houston—for a second opinion.

Virginia Gónzalez and her husband flew from Mexico to Texas and then boarded a bus to a vaccination site. They made the trip again for a second dose. The couple from Monterrey, Mexico, acted on the advice of the doctor treating the husband for prostate cancer. In all, they logged 1,400 miles for two round trips.

“It’s a matter of survival,” Gónzalez told NBC News, of getting a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. “In Mexico, officials didn’t buy enough vaccines. It’s like they don’t care about their citizens.”

Mexico has a vaccine rollout plan but it’s been too slow in many people’s opinions.

With a population of nearly 130 million people, Mexico has secured more vaccines than many Latin American nations — about 18 million doses as of Monday from the U.S., China, Russia and India. Most of those have been given to health care workers, people over 60 and some teachers, who so far are the only ones eligible. Most other Latin American countries, except for Chile, are in the same situation or worse.

So vaccine seekers who can afford to travel are coming to the United States to avoid the long wait, including people from as far as Paraguay. Those who make the trip must obtain a tourist visa and have enough money to pay for required coronavirus tests, plane tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars and other expenses.

There is little that is fair about the global race for the COVID-19 vaccine, despite international attempts to avoid the current disparities. In Israel, a country of 9 million people, half of the population has received at least one dose, while plenty of countries have yet to receive any. While the U.S. could vaccinate 70 percent of its population by September 2021 at the current rollout rate, it could take Mexico until approximately the year 2024 to achieve the same results.

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