By now, you may have heard the alarming news out of South Africa: Scientists there have tracked a new variant of Covid-19, and it has way more mutations than Delta.
Countries are halting flights from South Africa; the variant has also been found in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. As the New York Times reports…
The new variant, B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 in the spike protein alone, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
The variant shares similarities with the Lambda and Beta variants, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.
“All these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Dr. Lessells said.
Granted, we don’t yet know what these mutations do. With luck, they’re no big deal; they won’t make Covid-19 more contagious or lead to worse individual outcomes. “Substantively NOTHING is known about the new variant,” as Roberto Burioni, a top Italian virologist, wrote on Twitter, adding that people shouldn’t panic.
But quite apart from whether this particular variant winds up being worse, the fact that we’re even dealing with a new variant illustrates this central point:
It isn’t enough for well-off countries to have vaccines.
The rest of the world needs them too. We’re all in this together.