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A New COVID-19 Variant Is Emerging (So Get Vaccinated!)

White House imposes travel restrictions for Africa amid new COVID-19 variant  - Kansas Reflector

I’m so sick of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion at this point. It’s been almost two years of lockdowns, protocols, testing, and panic. In that time, millions have gotten sick and thousands have died. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that kind of loss. We can’t hope to understand what it’s like for those suffering this terrible illness or the pain their families feel when they lose someone.

It doesn’t matter what you’re politics are or how much you hate mask requirements. This pandemic has been a disaster wrapped with multiple layers of tragedy. Even though we have better treatments and multiple vaccines, it’s still raging. It’s unavoidable that more people will suffer and die.

To make matters worse, we were on the path to ending this pandemic. There was a brief period during the summer when it looked like it was over. We had beaten this virus and everything could go back to normal. Then, a variant emerged and the disease came roaring back. It certainly didn’t help that assholes, frauds, grifters, and liars got people killed by convincing one too many people to not get the vaccine.

We’re all getting a painful lesson in biology and evolution. Sadly, some of the idiots and assholes who are behind the denialism and conspiracy theories don’t even believe in evolution. That’s a problem because it’s still very real, especially in viruses.

From an evolutionary perspective, the old saying of what kills you makes you stronger is bullshit, at least with respect to viruses. It would be more accurate to say that what doesn’t kill you mutates, adapts, and tris again. Give it one too many opportunities and it will succeed. Viruses don’t care about your politics, your beliefs, or your nationality. They’re just microscopic terminators whose sole purpose is to infect and propagate.

Now, thanks to all the hesitancy and the undermining of public health, the COVID-19 virus is getting way more opportunities than it should’ve. It mutated once before to become more infectious. Recently, we learned that it has mutated again into a new variant. It’s called the Omicron Variant. It’s no a Transformer. It’s potentially a very dangerous turn for this disease that has already caused so much suffering.

While a part of me is tempted to panic, I think it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective. It’s not helpful to assume the worst or the best. Hell, that’s a big part of what made this pandemic so devastating in the first place. At most, we should be concerned about this new variant.

I’m certainly no expert and I have no business predicting how bad this new variant will be. I’m also aware that there are many mixed messages coming from various media outlets, many of which are not reliable. So, in the interest of offering some information with as little bias as possible, here is a brief piece about what we currently know about this variant from NPR.

NPR: What to know about omicron, the new COVID variant

The World Health Organization announced Friday that it deems this strain, B.1.1.529, a variant of concern, and has named it omicron. It’s the first new variant of concern since delta.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday night that no cases of omicron have been identified to date in the U.S., but that the agency has surveillance systems in place and it expects the variant will be identified quickly if it emerges in the U.S.

Here’s what we know so far about the new variant — and what we don’t.

The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges have been, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants.

The WHO says that the detection of the variant in South Africa coincided with a steep increase in cases there and that its prevalence is increasing in almost all provinces of the country. The variant has caused a particularly sharp rise in cases in the city of Pretoria, where it went from being essentially undetectable several weeks ago to now dominating the outbreak in a major city. Cases have also cropped up in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel during a relatively short period of time.

Why is it spreading so fast?

Scientists don’t know yet, but they believe it has to do with the variant’s mutations. “This variant has a large number of mutations. And those mutations have some worrying characteristics,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove with the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, in a video statement. Scientists say the variant has a number of mutations that are known to boost transmissibility and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily.

Still, scientists caution that there isn’t enough data yet to know for sure whether that’s the case.

What about the vaccines? Are there any signs the vaccine will be less effective against this variant?

There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it and that there there could be a higher risk of reinfections.

But in an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said: “Let me be clear, there is no data at the present time to indicate that the current vaccines would not work.”

The concern here is based on the fact that some of omicron’s mutations are ones that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system — to resist antibodies and avoid detection by some of the body’s front-line defenders.

But again, scientists don’t have enough data to say for sure.

I bolded that last sentence. That’s an important detail to remember. We just don’t know all the facts yet about this variant. As a result, people are going to make assumptions and asshole grifters will try to fill in those gaps with their agenda. I know it’s tempting to latch onto whatever information feels right, but that’s exactly why you should make the effort.

Don’t make too many assumptions.

Don’t get sucked into conspiracies, hashtags, and social media trends.

Wait for people who actually study viruses for a living to provide accurate information. Then, you can decide for yourself how much or how little you should worry.

In the meantime, and I’ll keep belaboring this for as long as I have to, get vaccinated! It’s because not enough people have gotten vaccinated that we’re in this situation. The longer we hesitate, the more opportunities we’ll give to this virus. Eventually, it’ll evolve to a point where we can’t fight it and we’ll be right back at square one or worse.

I don’t want that.

You don’t want that.

Nobody wants that.

This world has suffered enough from this pandemic. The best thing you can do is not make crazy assumptions before we know more about this variant and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. We can still end this pandemic, but only if we’re willing to adapt.

If we don’t, then the virus will. That is the only assumption we can safely make.

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Appreciating Dr. Maurice Hilleman: The Man Who Saved Millions Of Lives (With Vaccines)

As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.

A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.

In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.

That man is Dr. Maurice Hilleman. While his notoriety is not on the same level as Dr. Borlaug, I have a feeling his profile will rise considerably after the events of 2020. That’s because Dr. Hilleman currently holds the record for developing the most vaccines of any doctor in history.

In total, he helped develop more than 40.

Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.

It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.

Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.

Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.

Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.

That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.

Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.

Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.

Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.

The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.

In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.

None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.

Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.

Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.

So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.

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