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COVID-19 Variants Explained

Yes, we do have the vaccine. Yes, currently we have three vaccination options to choose from. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s over. There is still a lot that is unknown about this virus and all of its mutations. 

How many new strains of the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) are there?

This is most likely one of the first questions that one may ask when trying to understand the current state of the pandemic and the spead of the virus. Sadly, the answer isn’t a great one; it’s unknown how many different mutations there are. Scientists have figured out that there are three primary variants that are very problematic. They urge people to be careful and cautious because they do not know a lot about COVID-19 in general, AND they know even less about these new versions of the virus. 

What are the various variants? 

The three known to be more problematic than the rest are the: U.K. variant, South African variant, and Brazilian variant. These variants are created because viruses spread by copying and replicating themselves, and sometimes the process does not always result in an exact copy. The mistakes in replication may cause the virus to spread quickly or cause more damage. 

The U.K. Variant, also known as B.1.1.7, spreads quicker and easier than other variants. The South African Variant, also known as B.1.351, emerged separately from the U.K. variant, but it shares some of the same characteristics. It seems as though it spreads a lot easier, but research still needs to be conducted. The Brazilian Variant, also known as P.1, contains mutations that are cause for concern, as it seems to transmit faster and has the potential to reinfect people. While these are the ones that are currently most prevalent, there are variants in Southern California (Cal.20C), New York (B.1.526), and Ohio. 

 Do they spread more quickly? Are they deadlier?

While there is some evidence to support that some of the strains spread quicker than others, there is so much which remains unknown that nothing can be said for certain. On the topic of being deadlier, similar to what I said above, studies are still being conducted, but early reports have shown that some of the strains result in more severe problems or effects.

It seems like the variant from Southern California, CAL.20C, is extremely transmissible. However, the data was collected around the winter holiday season, so it’s uncertain if the increase was because of CAL.20C or because of excessive gathering attributed to the holidays. 

Scientists and the British government have recently released preliminary data and information about how the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, which does have an increased death rate in comparison to the other variants. As this is merely preliminary data, it is still unknown if the variant is more deadly or if it is simply just spreading faster — which would reach more vulnerable people than other mutations. 

What effect does the vaccine have on these new strains? 

Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have NOT been proven ineffective against the various mutations of COVID-19. Moderna is working on figuring out if a booster shot will help civilians protect themselves against the variants, especially the one in South Africa — however, public health officials believe that the vaccine still provides protection against all strains. 

What do scientists recommend?

It’s quite simple, and we’ve been hearing about it for the past year: wear a mask, wash your hands, and socially distance. However, there is a new addition to this list: get the vaccine. Getting the vaccine may be more difficult because of the “vaccine roll-out stage” your state is currently in or because there is a shortage of them in general, so you may not be able to get the vaccine right away. In the meantime, make sure you are following the aforementioned pieces of advice.

Here are some resources that may help you:

1. How To Sign Up For A COVID-19 Vaccine In Your State

2. How Is The COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign Going In Your State?

3. CDC Says It’s Safe For Vaccinated People To Do These Activities

4. Vaccine Finder

5. CDC Updates

Mahati Shastry

Columbia Barnard '24

Mahati is a sophomore at Barnard who is excited to experience the wonder that is NYC. She loves reading, writing, and spending time outdoors. Even though she is just entering the Barnard family, she already feels like she’s at home. Currently, she is undecided but is very interested in political science and human rights. :)
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