A Tale Of Two Viruses

As we enter the last week of January, much uncertainty remains around how new variants of the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, will shape the year ahead of us. Reports from British officials that B.1.1.7, the so-called UK variant, isn’t just more transmissible than its predecessors but more lethal as well are raising equal parts alarm and skepticism, especially since the same variant has spread to at least 60 countries and is now dominant in a few. Meanwhile B.1.351—the so-called South Africa variant, formerly known as 501.V2—has become so widespread as to prompt the Biden administration to consider imposing a travel ban on non-US citizens hailing from South Africa.

Researchers around the world are not just hustling to sequence these new variants (as of last week, in the US only 0.3 percent have been identified), but conduct studies and experiments that can help answer lingering questions about their impact on natural immunity, vaccines, and the duration of the current pandemic. Two recent publications, both still undergoing peer review, add some depth and nuance to our current understanding of B.1.1.7 and B.1.351—demonstrating that viral variation isn’t an inherently disastrous development, but could become one if we don’t adequately anticipate and address its consequences.

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Originally published on Forbes (January 25, 2021)

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.