It has been eight months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Coronavirus pandemic and people still don't know when they will get back to their normal lives. But history says no lethal pandemic lasted forever, neither the 1918 flu nor the Black Death. So how will this COVID-19 pandemic end?
A mutated strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that developed in Europe was able to outcompete and dominate the original strain that emerged in Wuhan, China, last year. It became much more infectious, replicating almost 10 times faster and being much better at airborne transmission than the original novel Coronavirus strain, said new research. While some experts said that the mutation should not make any promising vaccine less effective, some believe it could.
What do We Know So Far?
As per the Japanese researchers and experts in the US, they have compared the new dominant mutant strain, which probably originated in Europe, with the one that first found in China's Wuhan to see what enabled the mutant to take over.
While earlier research findings showed that the mutated SARS-CoV-2 virus is more efficient at getting into the human cell, the new study showed that it is also more easily transmitted and grows better within the host. As per Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the lead researchers of the study, these advantages may explain why the virus "dominated in humans".
The researchers said the data suggested that current vaccine candidates, which are under development, should still be effective against the mutant. However, the lead researcher, Dr. Ralph Baric, stressed the need to "track and understand the consequences of" new SARS-CoV-2 mutations. According to him, such mutations are "continually emerging" and could lead to greater disease severity, host range, transmission capacity, and vulnerability to vaccine-induced immunity.
Another team of scientists led by Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, published a paper in July showing that a strain carrying a mutation identified as D614G appeared to be replacing the strain, first emerged out of Wuhan. As per Korber, this strain is now the primary one. "The D614G strain is now the pandemic, [and] you can hardly even sample the [original] Wuhan virus anymore. In early March, the virus was a different virus than it is today," he added.
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Hospitals in Europe are now flooded with Coronavirus patients and the continent is noticing more deaths, after the resurgence of the virus. Many countries are in partial lockdowns as many hope that restrictions will help to control the novel Coronavirus spread.
The hard-hit country, US, is noticing a massive amount of Coronavirus cases and now the COVID -19 crisis has reached catastrophic levels, while experts fear that the coming winter will be extremely crucial. As per the current reports, the COVID-19 situation is out of control across the US, with 49 states simultaneously classified as hot spots.
Meanwhile, the global Coronavirus cases have crossed the 50 million marks. But healthcare experts believe that a safe and effective vaccine is likely the best and fastest way to control the pandemic. However, mutations, which are natural and frequent, could threaten the vaccine candidates by changing specific parts of the virus that experts hope to target.
Currently, there are concerns that minks may be the source for one of these mutations. The WHO is investigating mink farming around the world as there is a possibility that they might pass dangerous new strains on to humans, some of which are believed to threaten the effectiveness of vaccines now under development.
But again, many experts argue that a safe and effective vaccine remains the best chance for ending the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also believed that regular boosters may be necessary as the virus cycles, not because of the rapid evolution of the virus but due to human immunity, may wane. However, some experts believe that some version of the virus will continue to circulate, like a common cold virus, for many years, if not forever.