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Politics Delta variant raises fears of worsening mutations

04:01  01 august  2021
04:01  01 august  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Delta variant spreads globally as Covid cases soar

  Delta variant spreads globally as Covid cases soar With low global vaccination rates, the variant's spread is threatening to overwhelm health systems.It is expected to become the dominant variant globally in the coming months, with the WHO predicting that there could be more than 200 million confirmed cases within a matter of weeks.

The rapid spread of the delta variant is raising concerns among scientists that the coronavirus could mutate into more transmissible or deadlier strains. Such a large amount of people without even one vaccine dose gives the virus more chances to spread, replicate and potentially develop mutations . Experts say that while mutations are not a certainty, the odds will remain high unless more vaccines are administered. And they warn that the highly transmissible delta variant , which came from mutations , could seem tame in comparison to future strains.

"Testing identified the Delta variant in 90% of specimens from 133 patients," the researchers from the CDC and local health departments wrote in the CDC's weekly report. It's the first big study to contradict earlier evidence that vaccinated people are almost completely safe from serious disease, even involving Delta and other variants . Delta has at least three mutations on a structure that is called the receptor binding domain -- the part of the virus that directly docks into the human cells it infects. They may help it escape detection by the immune system and at least one of them may help it bind more tightly to cells.

The rapid spread of the delta variant is raising concerns among scientists that the coronavirus could mutate into more transmissible or deadlier strains.

a person taking a selfie: Delta variant raises fears of worsening mutations © Getty Images Delta variant raises fears of worsening mutations

The fresh fears come as the U.S. vaccination rate has largely plateaued and with much of the world still unvaccinated. Such a large number of people without even one vaccine dose gives the virus more chances to spread, replicate and potentially develop mutations.

Experts say that while mutations are not a certainty, the odds will remain high unless more vaccines are administered. And they warn that the highly transmissible delta variant, which came from mutations, could seem tame in comparison to future strains.

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The Delta coronavirus variant surging across the US appears to cause more severe illness and spread as easily as chickenpox, according to an internal CDC document.

The Delta variant , also known as B.1.617.2, can spread more easily, according to the CDC. The strain has mutations on the spike protein that make it easier for it to infect human cells. That means people may be more contagious if they contract the virus and more easily spread it to others. CBS News: “ Delta Plus: As U.S. grapples with Delta variant , India raises alarm over a new COVID strain mutated from it.” Public Health England: “SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants under investigation in England, July 9, 2021,” “Vaccines highly effective against hospitalisation from Delta variant .”

In announcing the new mask guidance this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky addressed the anxiety among public health experts over whether potential mutations might be able to bypass existing COVID-19 vaccines.

"Right now, fortunately, we are not there," Walensky said. "These vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death."

"But the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge, just a few mutations potentially away, could potentially evade our vaccines," she added.

When COVID-19 spreads, the virus replicates its genetic material to infect more cells. In the process, that material sometimes mutates from the original strain.

Andrew Pekosz, a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the virus mutates randomly but at a steady rate.

If we want kids back in school and the economy to prosper, more of the US needs to get vaccinated, expert says

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This week the delta variant was re-classified as a " variant of concern" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "based on mounting evidence that the delta variant spreads more easily and causes more severe cases when compared to other variants , including B.1.1.7 (Alpha)," it said in In the U.K., where the delta variant is now responsible for the bulk of new infections, cases have spiked among young people and the unvaccinated, leading to a rise in hospitalizations in those cohorts. The spread of the variant has also prompted the U.K. to delay further loosening of Covid-19 restrictions.

An overseas Filipino worker in Indonesia is holing up in a condominium, as the Southeast Asian nation is battling surging infections fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant .

Most changes do not help or inhibit the virus's ability to spread, but "very, very infrequently" its genetic material alters to give it the upper hand, he said.

It's "incredibly difficult to predict" when these mutations will occur, Pekosz said, adding that the opportunities for alterations increase in areas where the virus can spread easily.

"Until we make sure that the virus can't freely replicate in the population anywhere in the world, we're always going to have that increased likelihood of mutations occurring," he said.

The World Health Organization has classified four strains as variants of concern that give the virus an advantage: the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants. Another four strains are labeled as variants of interest, which could possibly benefit the virus.


Video: Growing concerns over Delta variant as more case are being reported across US (ABC News)

The U.K.’s Delta Surge Is Collapsing. Will Ours?

  The U.K.’s Delta Surge Is Collapsing. Will Ours? Why the variant’s spread may be less pervasive than we currently expect.To those who’d been following the science of Delta closely, the slides didn’t break much news. We’ve known for a while that Delta is dramatically more transmissible than the “wild” strain of SARS-CoV-2 and much more transmissible than even some of the earlier variants, also distinguished by their transmissibility. And there’d been signs for a week or so that, while vaccines were doing remarkably well protecting against severe disease, hospitalization, and death, and pretty well protecting against symptomatic disease, they were doing less well in protecting against transmission.

The delta variant is known to be substantially more contagious than other variants – as contagious though deadlier than chicken pox, according to the CDC presentation. People may also be infectious for longer with the delta variant , 18 days instead of 13, the presentation says. This suggests official guidance on quarantining when sick may need to be changed, too, said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The Delta variant , first detected in India – which now accounts for more than 90% of new Covid cases in the UK – has raised concerns as it appears to be somewhat more resistant to vaccines than the Alpha variant that was first detected in Kent and previously dominated in the UK. However for the Delta variant this protection was lower, with one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab offering about 36% protection against symptomatic disease.

Officials and experts widely view immediate vaccinations in the U.S. and around the world as the best way to reduce the risk of more harmful variants from developing.

"Now is the time for people to get vaccinated," Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine told Washington Post Live on Friday. "That's the best way to protect against the development of these variants."

That message is being delivered in some hard-hit states as well.

Louisiana's top medical official, Joseph Kanter, emphasized that while the COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the delta strain, that may not be the case with other variants.

"There's no guarantee that future variants will provide us that opportunity," he told reporters on Thursday.

The seven-day U.S. average in vaccinations leveled off in the past few weeks to more than 500,000 doses per day before jumping to 615,000 on Thursday. Still, the rate is a dramatic drop-off from its peak of 3.3 million doses per day in mid-April, according to Our World in Data.

Less than half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, including less than 58 percent of Americans 12 and older who are eligible to get the shots.

Tensions rise within Biden team over mask reversal

  Tensions rise within Biden team over mask reversal The president’s team had a meticulously crafted agenda in mind. But pandemics don’t care for carefully laid out plans.Roughly 100,000 people a night poured into the four-day long Lollapalooza, one of the biggest music festivals in the world. But, as it happened this year, the festivities came at the same time that the White House was recalibrating its message on Covid-19, warning that vaccinated people who experienced rare, so-called breakthrough infections of the Delta variant could transmit the virus as readily as the un-immunized.

The emergence of a variant that could evade the existing vaccines would pose an "ultra serious" problem, said William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"Then we would have to create a new vaccine to match that new variant," he said. "That's not so tough. The technology is there. That would be done within a month or two. But then we would have to give this new vaccine to everybody. We'd have to start all over again."

Only 14.2 percent of the global population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving much of the world more at risk. President Biden has committed to sending millions of donated doses abroad to accelerate the world's vaccination effort.

Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said that if vaccines were ready for the world at the same time as in the U.S., "potentially we could have forestalled or prevented" the delta variant.

Still, he said the kinds of mutations in current variants suggest that the virus's evolution is not selecting changes that are "completely resistant" to the vaccines in use now.

"I'm hoping what that means is that we won't see a doomsday COVID-19 that's completely resistant to all of our vaccines," he said. "I don't think that's gonna happen."

Experts agree that the CDC's updated mask guidance could help prevent the formation of harmful new variants, as masking offers an additional layer of protection.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb predicted on CNBC that the U.S. would get through the worst of the delta variant within a few weeks, adding that the CDC's new recommendations could have a "negligible impact."

But some experts expressed uncertainty, pointing to how quickly the state of the pandemic could change, especially with schools across the country returning in-person in the next few weeks.

"It may be that we can, that we'll see something peaking ... in the next week or two of delta," said Pekosz of Johns Hopkins. "But when we move back inside in the fall, that's another opportunity for a resurgence to occur."

Children make up 15% of U.S. COVID-19 cases .
"A lot of these kids are very sick with respiratory symptoms. Literally starved for oxygen," one doctor told CBS News.According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 93,824 child COVID-19 cases were reported between July 29 and August 5, with children representing 15% of the weekly reported cases in the U.S. Since July 22, the total number of child COVID-19 cases has jumped 4%. As of August 5, nearly 4.3 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

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