There’s a new variant of COVID-19 that the World Health Organization says has a “constellation of mutations” that may allow it to evade immunity received from vaccines or previous COVID disease.
The mutation, known as “mu,” or the B.1.621 variant, was first observed in Colombia. It has since spread to dozens of countries including the United States. The WHO classified the strain as a “variant of concern” on August 30 and researchers are scrambling to uncover more data.
It wouldn’t be the first variant that eluded immunity gained from vaccines. The beta variant is also resistant to inoculations, but it hasn’t spread nearly as far or fast as the delta variant. The vaccines appear to be just as effective against delta as any of the earlier variants of the coronavirus.
The agency is monitoring four variants “of concern,” including delta, which was first detected in India and is the most prevalent variant currently circulating in the U.S.; alpha, first detected in the U.K.; beta, first detected in South Africa, and gamma, first detected in Brazil. A variant of concern is generally defined as a mutated strain that’s either more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.
It’s also keeping a close watch on four other variants of interest — including lambda, first identified in Peru — that have caused outbreaks in multiple countries and have genetic changes that could make them more dangerous than other strains.
Historically, it’s normal for these variants to appear. Mutating is part of the life cycle for viruses, and small changes in evolutionary strategies, such as the ability to easier infect a host or replicate faster, might prove deadly to humans but a godsend for the virus.
Still, the changes in the virus usually don’t radically affect a human’s immunity to it if they’ve been vaccinated. The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper about the effectiveness of vaccines against the delta variant and found vaccines were still 95 percent effective.
Exactly how transmissible mu is has not been determined, but Public Health England recently noted that the variant doesn’t seem to be spreading particularly rapidly, and that it appears “unlikely” to be more transmissible than the delta variant. As a result “there is no indication that [mu] is out-competing delta” at this time, the agency said in a risk assessment of the variant. But the variant’s ability to escape vaccine-induced immunity “may contribute to future changes in growth,” the assessment said.
The COVID-19 virus will now be part of the human experience, much as the flu and other contagious diseases are. It never should have caused the shutdowns, mask mania, or business closings that were imposed on us by panicky politicians and ignorant public health bureaucrats.