Where are we with the COVID variant cycle?

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

| Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

As countries continue the battle against COVID-19, scientists and experts are also unrelenting in their efforts to study the coronavirus and control its spread. According to a report from The New York Times, a pattern seems to be emerging: cases would surge for about two months before they demonstrate a decline. Even the highly transmissible Delta variant fueling new surges have followed this cycle as seen in India – where the coronavirus variant was first identified – and in the UK and other countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Spain, and France.

While experts are not sure about the reason for this ebb and flow cycle – because caseloads do not necessarily follow any distinctive pattern – one likely explanation is that the virus probably needs two months to “circulate” through a typically-sized cluster (of people), infecting those who are most vulnerable and then triggering a new wave when these people break out of their clusters – especially during a holiday.

In the United States, COVID-19 hospital admissions are showing a decline for the first time since June 27, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, indicating that the latest surge in cases may have reached a peak and would soon show a decline as the numbers also fall in states such as Florida and Texas that are considered to be hotspots.

“Scientists are also closely monitoring new variants that have emerged, among them the C.1.2, which has been named by the World Health Organization as a “variant of interest.”

While there is concern that a resurgence may appear as schools reopen, and more people start gathering in bigger numbers as they go back to work, epidemiologists point out that there are variables that could also affect the Delta variant’s ability to spread, such as the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, the age of the people who have been vaccinated, frequency of large gatherings as well as mask-wearing, distancing and other precautions. In fact, even the weather may be a factor since case rates in the UK showed a decline in the summer.

Scientists are also closely monitoring new variants that have emerged, among them the C.1.2, which has been named by the World Health Organization as a “variant of interest.” First detected in South Africa, this new variant has since been reported in seven other countries spanning Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania, says a pre-print, non-peer-reviewed paper authored by members of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg, South Africa and published online in medRxiv, the pre-print server for Health Sciences.

Although the prevalence is still low, the C.1.2 variant is getting much attention because it has “key mutations” seen in other variants of interest and concern, such as the Delta. While there are variants that are “fragile” and thus disappear before they pose real problems, there are those that are described as “fitter” – meaning they survive changes and “overgrow” earlier variants, which is what happened with Delta that has shown an ability to replicate faster and invade cells more efficiently.

Scientists have long warned that the coronavirus will continue to evolve. New variants will emerge worldwide, with the possibility that some of them may even have the ability to evade vaccine-induced immunity, like the “mu” variant, which has been identified in 39 countries and classified as another “variant of interest” by the WHO.

“Citing data from studies that go through July, Dr. Oliver reiterated that “vaccines continue to maintain the highest protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.”

But what is becoming evident in the studies is the effect of vaccines in keeping down hospitalizations, preventing severe illness and even death. This was seen in a presentation by the US CDC, where they show that hospitalization rates were 16 times higher among the unvaccinated population. According to Dr. Sara Oliver, vaccines still appear to provide strong protection, with efficacy against severe illness and hospitalization remaining high, ranging from 75 to 95 percent.

Citing data from studies that go through July, Dr. Oliver reiterated that “vaccines continue to maintain the highest protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death.” However, “protection against infection, including asymptomatic and mild infection, appears to be lower in recent months.”

As described by Dr. Matthew Daley, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) workgroup chairman, the data is a “strong indication that the current epidemiologic curve that we’re seeing is really a reflection of the failure to vaccinate, not vaccine failure.”

The real good news is that mRNA vaccine manufacturers can tweak boosters to counter emerging variants quickly. Moderna has completed its submission and waiting for full approval for its vaccine. At the same time, Pfizer was already granted full approval by the US FDA, which means the manufacturer can now advertise and likely persuade unvaccinated Americans to get a shot. The manufacturers are also working on vaccines for those under 12 to minimize infections among school children.

“Since March, close to 49 million vaccine doses have already arrived, while 42 million doses are expected this September and 103.5 million by the fourth quarter – enough to inoculate 100.5 million Filipinos.”

We’re so pleased our Philippine FDA granted emergency use authorization for Moderna vaccines for those aged 12-17. We are confident the Philippines will see a drop in daily infections and put these continuing variants under control with mass vaccination.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez confirmed that the Philippines is eyeing 195 million vaccine doses to be purchased by the government and the private sector. Since March, close to 49 million vaccine doses have already arrived, while 42 million doses are expected this September and 103.5 million by the fourth quarter – enough to inoculate 100.5 million Filipinos.

Worldwide vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic. The United States is playing a major role in this effort, with President Biden putting additional funding to manufacture more vaccines that will supply the world.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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