Unchecked, COVID-19 Could Spawn Variant Current Vaccines Can't Stop

Published: Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 8:21am
Updated: Thursday, July 22, 2021 - 1:57pm
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Arizona State University
Joshua LaBaer

COVID-19 case rates are accelerating as Arizona enters its third surge, with the seven-day trailing average now topping 1,000 cases per day.

"If you look at the numbers, they are rising rapidly — not just in Arizona, but in many states in the country," said Joshua LaBaer, director of ASU's Biodesign Institute, in a press briefing Wednesday.

LaBaer also said, barring herd immunity, the world will eventually see a strain of SARS-CoV-2 that resists current vaccines.

The now-dominant Delta variant might be 200% more infectious, but it didn't get that way by building on the successes of its predecessors. Rather, each strain develops its own mutations that let it infect its host.

SARS-CoV-2 does not mutate as much as other viruses. But, with so many viruses in circulation due to low and flattening vaccination rates, even longshots odds eventually pay out.

"We've now seen several variants of concern arise, each one exceeding the previous one in terms of its transmissibility. And it's just a matter of time before, sooner or later, one could evolve that really does resist the vaccine."

LaBaer said such a development would fundamentally change the epidemiological equation.

"That would mean that we're then suddenly in a position where we have to develop a new vaccine for that variant, and we could start into this vicious cycle."

That cycle could bring us around to another surge this winter.

Currently, 90% of infections and 99% of hospitalizations occur among people who are not vaccinated.

LaBaer strongly recommends people avoid large gatherings and get or complete their vaccinations, which do protect against the Delta variant and offer the best chance at avoiding a worse variant to come.

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