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Vaccination Can Stem the Rise of New Variants. Time to Double Down.

A new variant from South Africa underscores the fact that new mutations emerge in individuals with prolonged COVID.

An EMS medic from the Houston Fire Department prepares to transport a COVID-19 positive 2-year-old to a hospital in Houston, Texas, on August 25, 2021.

As we enter a new school year with students actually in the building, as autumn looms a few scant weeks away, and as the Delta variant of COVID-19 leaves us guessing as to what comes next in this long, lethal slog, “uncertainty” is the watchword of the day. A number of positive indicators are running into the teeth of a seemingly ceaseless tide of bad news, and as ever, the acolytes of Trump continue to kill their supporters through disinformation.

When discussing the climate crisis, we speak often of the dangers of “feedback loops” — factors feeding into factors that accelerate the process. The spread of COVID has been no different: A segment of the population either refuses to take the threat seriously or has limited access to the vaccine, the virus ravages that segment, and out of that sickened segment emerge variants like Delta. As a segment of the population continues to dismiss the threat or fails to have vaccine access, the variant hits harder than before, and the increased number of infected people become incubators for an even more dangerous variant. This fits the definition of a feedback loop.

Underscoring this is the emergence from South Africa of a new COVID variant, this one designated as C.1.2. As yet officially unnamed, this new variant has been found in China, New Zealand, Switzerland, Portugal, Mauritius, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DAR) and England. As we have learned, COVID gives not a damn about borders, and the fact of its existence overseas means it could very easily be here in the U.S. already. Delta came from India, remember.

The South African scientists studying C.1.2 noted that it has “concerning constellations of mutations.” They went on to warn, “While these mutations are not characteristic of current VOCs/VOIs, they have been associated with escape from certain class 3 neutralizing antibodies. The combination of these mutations presents a potentially novel antigenic landscape for C.1.2 variant specific antibodies.”

The science-to-English translation of this is stark: C.1.2 may be capable of evading to one degree or another the protections provided by our vaccines. Delta has caused more “breakthrough” infections of vaccinated people because its viral load is approximately 1,200 times that of the original virus, and because the vaccines do not provide 100 percent protection from infection.

How exactly are variants created? “According to the scientists,” reports Joseph Choi of The Hill, “these mutations likely occurred in a single individual who had a prolonged case of COVID-19, resulting in an accelerated evolution.”

This is vital: The vaccines may not be bulletproof, but they are almost completely effective at preventing people from becoming severely ill from COVID. If a person avoids becoming severely ill from COVID for a protracted amount of time, they deprive the virus of what is necessary for them to evolve into a new variant.

Of all the reasons to get vaccinated, even if a booster is required later, this is one of the best I’ve heard. Though we remain in a terrifying fog regarding what is to come, and even as tens of thousands of new infections are happening daily due to vaccine resistance, there can be no denying that we have made huge strides since last winter. This is almost entirely due to an increasingly vaccinated public.

All of this can be undone by a variant with the ability to evade vaccination. And the way to stop this is by way of vaccination; people who worry about being a petri dish for Big Pharma should worry more about becoming an unvaccinated petri dish for COVID. The longer you are sick, the more likely a new variant emergence becomes. I don’t imagine even the most stalwart pro-Trump MAGA shouter aspires to wake up as Typhoid Mary one day. Skip the shots, and that’s what you’re gambling with.

It appears the issue is trending in a positive direction. The latest surveys reveal a steep decline in the number of people refusing to get the vaccine. A number of factors appear to be causing this: The FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, workplace vaccination mandates and the beginning of the school year. (Children under 12 now make up the largest group of unvaccinated people in the country, and unfortunately, the solution to that remains months away.)

My favorite part of this survey, according to Axios: “The share of Americans who say they feel hopeful right now has plummeted to 34 percent, from 48 percent in March — but those saying they feel motivated, energized, inspired or resilient has risen by at least as much. That suggests that, rather than giving up, these Americans are reassessing their expectations about how quick a fix the first generation of vaccines alone can be — and resolving to do what it takes over the long haul.”

In other words: Stout hearts. May it be so. Get the shots if you can, please, and break the feedback loop.

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