Even as the US struggles to meet the massive demand for COVID-19 vaccines, health experts worry that new strains of the virus could complicate matters. One such strain, found in the UK, threatens to be deadlier, more contagious and more resistant to the vaccine than the normal strain.
President Biden’s top coronavirus advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has warned that the US needs to scale up its genomic surveillance. Genomic surveillance is the process by which researchers sequence the genetic makeup of viruses to determine what strain they are. While many were hoping the pandemic could be stopped as soon as this Spring or Summer, experts now worry COVID could become endemic.
An endemic is a pathogen that is widespread and stays in an area for years on end. Examples include the Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages and, the common cold in most parts of the world in the modern era. Researchers are now warning that the coronavirus’s many mutations suggest it could become an endemic.
Medical researchers are warning of a “cat and mouse” scenario where there have to be yearly vaccines for the newest strains of the virus. This could make the coronavirus a normal part of everyday life, not unlike the flu, its viral cousin. Such a scenario sounds exhausting for people who have spent almost a year on various lockdowns, social distancing and trying to avoid catching or spreading the virus.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Moderna has announced that they’re working on a booster shot that will help combat the new South African variant of the virus, allowing existing vaccines to pivot to address new strains. This, coupled with eventually herd immunity, means that there is reason to hope for better days in the future.
One a full-scale vaccine operation is off the ground and companies have had time to scale up production to get everyone vaccinated, COVID becomes much less pressing of an issue. While the disease is deadly, the vaccines that prevent it have rather high effective rates and can be produced on a massive scale. Aside from wearing masks and social distancing, getting a vaccine is the best thing an individual can do to put a stop to the pandemic.
While the coronavirus is stubborn, researchers are working to find vaccines to stop it in its tracks. The most important thing now is that everyone who is able to gets a vaccine as soon as one becomes available for them.