Thursday, May 30, 2024

Pandemic rages, new strains spread

By Jessica Johnson

The pandemic is still happening. 

As more cases rise, and less mask mandates are put in place state to state, the World Health Organization announced March 22 that BA.2, the Omicron subvarient, had become the dominant form of SARS-CoV-2, overtaking the Delta variant, and is 30%  to 50% more contagious than the first subvariant, BA. 1. This means, maybe, we should continue wearing masks, as each mutation of COVID becomes more contagious than the last. 

According to Scientific American, “BA.2 exploded across Africa, Europe and Asia, and it currently accounts for nearly 55 percent of all new SARS-CoV-2 infections in the U.S. according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…Earlier variants, namely Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, competed for dominance primarily on the basis of how well they infect human cells in high numbers and transit efficiently among people. But Omicron acquired the further advantage of being able to resist immune defenses against the variants that came before, thereby increasing the number of susceptible people in the population.”

Across the U.S. many have received the COVID-19 vaccination, whether Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer, with 256.5 million people receiving one dosage and 218.6 million people being fully vaccinated. Almost 100 million have received a booster shot, and the numbers continue to increase day by day. Those who are vaccinated that may test positive, having a “vaccine breakthrough infection” for the virus may be lost in confusion, as to how they could get the virus even after getting the booster. 

From an outside perspective, it seems Omicron subvariants aren’t helping in the matter of combating COVID-19 with the booster because it’s mutating by resisting immune defenses such as a vaccine, that is meant to train our immune systems to create antibodies that fight against COVID-19 infection by imitating that infection. These vaccines help develop immunity to the virus, without contracting COVID-19 first. These lessen the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. However, if a vaccine is targeted at variants we already know of, how can it combat new variants the body has not been introduced to? 

According to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, “Initial reports show that receiving only one or two doses of an mRNA vaccine, like the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, does not reduce the likelihood of infection against omicron as much as it does against previous variants. However, receiving a booster greatly helps both prevent the likelihood of infection with the omicron variant and reduces the severity of illness if you do get sick.”

So basically, even if someone is vaccinated, they may still get sick with Omicron, but the booster greatly helps the odds of someone not actually contracting Omicron. Symptoms may be mild when vaccinated, such as cold-like symptoms like congestion and a sore throat, but this variant is highly contagious. Reinfections with BA.2 after BA.1 do occur in some people, but most are actually protected from this happening once contacting the first variant. COVID cases have dropped by 35% in the U.S. over the last month. However, times are still uncertain and we may not know if a surge is coming next.

Two new variants have evolved from BA.2, and according to the New York Times, “New York has been the national hot spot the last few weeks, officials said.” One of the new variants dodges immunity, and both BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 are now accounting “for more than 70% of new cases in central New York State,” and have risen to above 90% in more than 30 states. Spreading and contracting isn’t nearly over, and levels are rising each day, leaving Americans in a time of uncertainty. 

We need to remain vigilant, and wear our masks when possible, to prevent spreading the variants more and contracting the illness ourselves. Anyone unvaccinated or unboosted are more likely to pass the virus onto others, and one may not know if the people around them are vaccinated or unvaccinated, as it is their choice. However, we need to protect ourselves, and be courteous of other health as well as our own. The most effective ways to limit the spread is still going to be avoiding large gatherings, wearing masks indoors and keeping distance from others especially in high populated areas. 

Remember, the pandemic is still going on, even as we slowly move to normalcy. This is a fight we need to work together to combat, and a time for us to put differences aside more than ever. 

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