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Nature has designed viruses to mutate!

The threat from COVID-19 won't end for the planet until it ends for everyone.

The more the virus is allowed to circulate, the higher the likelihood of new mutations, especially in those with chronic infections, scientists say. That means we need to vaccinate the world.

By Nazarul Islam

It is extremely difficult for us to maintain our calm when there is yet another variant of the coronavirus, possibly even more transmissible than Delta—dangerously circulating in the United States. The first domestic case — an air passenger from South Africa — was reported in California on Wednesday, and several more have been confirmed since then. But we must stay cool for the moment, anyway.

The spread of the Omicron variant is worth watching, but it does not yet signal a need for drastic measures such as shutting down schools or businesses or holing up inside? We realize that it’s a matter of serious concern. The fact that the Omicron variant’s several mutations on the spike protein, the part of the virus that infects cells, may allow it to get past our current vaccines and lead to more infections.

It is also a matter overall concern that it might be more resistant to treatment with monoclonal antibodies.

However, at this point we just don’t know enough to either relax or panic.

Not all the early indications of this mutant’s behavior are frightening. There’s anecdotal information that infections with Omicron might be no more deadly than Delta and earlier strains, though the numbers of confirmed cases are too small and confined to a limited population for assurance on that.

Hospitals in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, are reporting a big increase in COVID-19 patients, but they have not been overwhelmed….so far.

Some reports have indicated that—those hospitalized were mostly the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated patients!

Again, we are also in better shape to fight this shapeshifter coronavirus. It’s been a wearying roller-coaster ride since March 2020 — and let’s not forget that the Delta variant is still burdening the medical system in many corners of the nation — but we now know more about how the virus operates and how to minimize risk.

Masks still help, without cramping our ability to get through the day. So does avoiding crowded indoor spaces. And of course, getting vaccinated is the most effective thing we can do to avoid serious illness.

Anecdotal evidence further, has suggested that vaccinated people in South Africa were more likely to have mild cases than the unvaccinated. Pressed urgently, the US President had announced yesterday that public health experts believe— that even if there are more breakthrough infections, the current vaccines will still help prevent hospitalization and death.

Vaccine makers have said they can tailor upcoming vaccines to ward off Omicron more effectively, if needed.

Momentarily though, we should feel more frustrated than fearful because the leaders of the U.S. and other developed nations have failed to provide enough vaccine to developing countries, especially in Africa.

When the idea of booster shots in the U.S. were first floated, scientists had warned us that we’d get a lot more bang for our vaccine buck by sending more doses overseas. Not only was that the humane thing to do, but it was a step in the right direction. Obviously, this would benefit everyone. Viruses jump national and even continental borders with relative ease.

The good news today is—60% of Americans are fully vaccinated, but only 24% of South Africans are at this point — and the vaccination rate is much lower for other African countries. So far, only about 12%of the doses promised by the U.S., European Union and various countries to developing nations have been delivered.

Also needed is help in distribution of donated doses; problems with timing and distribution have frustrated efforts to get more Africans vaccinated and resulted in precious doses being tossed.

Despite immediate and inaccurate attacks on Biden from leaders of, responding to Omicron is not a political issue. “More mandates, restrictions and fearmongering will not offset the empty words and broken promises from Biden’s failed administration,” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said Thursday.

But President Biden has done none of that, other than to impose testing requirements on travelers from the nations most affected by Omicron. Instead, the president is doubling down on vaccines and testing.

What was missing from Biden’s new pandemic strategy was a commitment to helping get more vaccine doses into the arms of people in any area where woefully large numbers remain unprotected.

The more the virus is allowed to circulate, the higher the likelihood of new mutations, especially in those with chronic infections, scientists say. That means we need to vaccinate the world.

The threat from COVID-19 won’t end for the planet until it ends for everyone. Let us learn to live with realities!

Nazarul Islam

The Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.

 

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