No one is truly safe from Covid until everyone is safe. We are in a race against time to get global transmission rates low enough to prevent the emergence of new variants.
What are ‘variants of concern’?
Genetic mutations of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 emerge frequently, but some variants are labelled “variants of concern”, because they can reinfect people who have had a previous infection or vaccination, or are more transmissible or can lead to more severe disease.
There are currently at least three documented SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern:
- B.1.351, first reported in South Africa in December 2020
- B.1.1.7, first reported in the United Kingdom in December 2020
- P.1, first identified in Japan among travellers from Brazil in January 2021.
Similar mutations are arising in different countries simultaneously, meaning not even border controls and high vaccination rates can necessarily protect countries from home-grown variants, including variants of concern, where there is substantial community transmission.
If there are high transmission levels, and hence extensive replication of SARS-CoV-2, anywhere in the world, more variants of concern will inevitably arise and the more infectious variants will dominate. With international mobility, these variants will spread.
The B.1.351 variant has already been detected in at least 48 countries as of March 2021.
Why we need maximum suppression ?
Each time the virus replicates, there is an opportunity for a mutation to occur. And as we are already seeing around the world, some of the resulting variants risk eroding the effectiveness of vaccines.
That’s why we have called for a global strategy of “maximum suppression”.
Public health leaders should focus on efforts that maximally suppress viral infection rates, thus helping to prevent the emergence of mutations that can become new variants of concern.
Prompt vaccine rollouts alone will not be enough to achieve this; continued public health measures, such as face masks and physical distancing, will be vital too. Ventilation of indoor spaces is important, some of which is under people’s control, some of which will require adjustments to buildings.
It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.Steve Maraboli