In anticipation of an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, states and cities across the United States have enjoyed reopening once-shuttered communities fo
In anticipation of an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, states and cities across the United States have enjoyed reopening once-shuttered communities for business, leisure, summer festivities and travel as life has returned to near-normal.
However, health officials remain on high alert given one ongoing obstacle to being finished with Covid-19: wide swaths of unvaccinated people in America that could allow the virus to further mutate and potentially spawn more transmissible and increasingly deadly variants.
That means that unvaccinated people are not only at greater risk of Covid-19 themselves, but could also potentially undermine America’s whole vaccine rollout if any future variant emerging in the US was significantly resistant to the shots.
“Unvaccinated people are basically the cannon fodder of the virus. The virus needs people to infect in order to replicate and the more people it has that are vulnerable or susceptible to infection, the more likely it will mutate,” said Dr Michael Saag, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Forty-six US states recorded at least a 10% increase in new coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, reported by CNN. Travel advisories have been declared for several states including Nevada and Florida because of increased Covid-19 cases, warning wannabe vacationers to stay away.
Against the backdrop of an almost nationwide increase in Covid-19 cases, there is a renewed focus on the vaccine rollout. After just missing a 4 July deadline of getting at least 70% of American adults their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Biden administration – together with federal, state and local health officials – is encouraging people, especially younger adults, to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
But, even amid the more aggressive attempts to boost vaccination rates, several states, many concentrated in the south, continue to lag behind. As of 5 July, Arkansas, which has fully vaccinated less than 35% of its adult population, has acquired new Covid-19 cases at five times the national average rate. Similarly, Oklahoma, where only 39% of adults are fully vaccinated, has had a similar increase in Covid-19 cases. Those who remain unvaccinated risk infection as well as an increased chance of hospitalization or death from Covid.
“The challenge that we’re facing in the public health response … is that we’ve gotten the ‘easy’ people in terms of vaccination. The ones that were eager for it, that couldn’t wait to get it,” said Dr Susan Hassig, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
But, in addition to experiencing the worst form of Covid-19, unvaccinated people present additional opportunities for the Covid-19 virus to mutate. The Delta variant of Covid-19, a more contagious and aggressive mutation of the virus that is now the dominant strain, is a direct result of the coronavirus mutating in people who have been infected. Viruses mutate once they are in the body of a person who has been infected. Some virus mutations can weaken a virus, while others, as observed with the Delta variant, make the virus more harmful.
Hence, clusters of unvaccinated people not only risk transmitting the virus to others, but risk spreading a stronger, more contagious version of Covid.
“Unvaccinated populations, of whatever size, are the breeding ground where the virus will eventually generate some form of mutation that will probably be a problem for us,” said Hassig.
Though epidemiologists remain uncertain about the likelihood of the need for boosters or revaccinations in the face of new strains, mutations of Covid-19 could challenge the immunity provided by existing vaccines.
“That’s been the concern all along. We’ve been talking about this since the beginning and, as anticipated, several variants have emerged … these viruses are just going to continue to emerge and it’s just a question of chance and a question of time, whether one of the variants will be resistant, to some degree, to the existing immunity provided by the vaccination,” said Saag.
With the prevalence of the Delta variant, increasing number of cases, and gaps in vaccination rates amid ongoing travel, public health officials are encouraging the retention of preventive measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing to limit the chance of infection.
But, as Hassig and Saag agreed, the most effective protection against future virus mutation and current strains is getting fully vaccinated.
“What we can do about it is get everyone vaccinated. That protects us from getting infected in the first place and if the virus isn’t able to infect, it’s not going to replicate … and a new variant won’t emerge,” said Saag.
Post source: Guardian