1️⃣ What is a variant/mutation?
In the UK, South Africa and Brazil, the virus has mutated to become more resistant and more transmissible.
The image above is of the COVID-19 virus. The UK strain has made its spikes stickier and harder to remove by your immune system. Whereas the Sth African and Brazilian strains have made their spikes harder for your antibodies to see.
2️⃣ How did this happen?
The coronavirus mutates about 2-4 times slower than the normal flu, but with 100million cases globally, mutations were always going to occur.
The suspicion with these new strains is that an immunocompromised patient was treated with the plasma of someone who had COVID antibodies. The antibodies killed most of the virus, but the mutations survived, multiplied and then spread.
3️⃣ What about herd immunity?
In September 2020, the city of Manaus had had 66% of the population infected. Scientist declared that herd immunity had been reached.
In December 2020, a new strain ripped through the city leading to today – the hospitals being overwhelmed and shortages of oxygen and ventilators.
4️⃣ Are the new strains more deadly?
“If you have something that kills 1 per cent of people but a huge number of people get it, that’s going to result in more deaths than something that a small number of people get but it kills 2 per cent of them,” Adam Kucharski, a modeller at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Science Magazine’s Kai Kupferschmidt.
5️⃣ Are the vaccines effective?
Because the strains are so recent, they are largely untested against the current raft of vaccines. The vaccine makers are working on creating boosters to combat the variations now.
Novavax (the one Australia bought 51million doses of last week) was 86% effective against the UK strain but 60% effective against the South African strain.
6️⃣ What can we do?
The same as what we have done better than many countries in the world. Wear masks, wash hands, socially distance and successfully prevent spread from hotel quarantine.