Spike proteins on the coronavirus, shown here in red, have mutated to be more sticky to receptors on human cells. Whether that has led to greater transmissibility and infectiousness remains to be determined. Image: CDC

Facts & Fallacies About the Mutant Coronavirus Strain

The rapidly evolving, mutated variant appears to be more infectious but much remains unknown

Robert Roy Britt
7 min readDec 21, 2020

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A recently evolved strain of the coronavirus, one of several, appears to be more infectious, based on preliminary evidence, and it has raised largely unwarranted concerns that it might quickly develop resistance to vaccines that are only just now rolling out. But it remains entirely unclear just how concerning the new strain will turn out to be, and experts caution against unwarranted fear until more is learned.

A few things are pretty certain about the mutant strain, which has led to fresh lockdowns in the UK, where it is widespread, and limits on UK travelers by other European countries:

  • Just like the original coronavirus strain and others that have evolved since, the new variant spreads easily and is extremely deadly.
  • It’s not yet clear if it transmits more easily than others, though evidence points in that direction.
  • There is no evidence the new strain is deadlier than others.
  • Mutations are not suddenly going to render vaccines ineffective.
  • There will be a lot of misinformation from armchair “experts” and other purveyors of disinformation aimed at promoting conspiracy theories.

“We currently have no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or higher mortality — but we continue to study cases to understand this better,” the UK’s executive health agency, Public Health England, said in a statement. “We know that mortality is a lagging indicator and we will need to continually monitor this over the coming weeks.” But, the agency adds, evidence “suggests” the strain “transmits more easily than other strains.”

“This isn’t a magic virus. It’s a variant of a [the SARS-CoV-2] respiratory virus,” says Ian M. Mackay, PhD, a professor of virology at the University of Queensland in Australia. “So the measures that protected us from the earlier variants, will protect us from this one. If we weren’t taking sufficient measures before, this variant will be even more likely infect you.”

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Robert Roy Britt

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB