Post-Pandemic Era: Surviving the Mutant COVID-19 Virus

  • Since April 2021, India's COVID-19 epidemic has worsened rapidly, arousing great concern from countries around the world. Experts believe that the emergence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 mutations is one of the reasons for the rapid deterioration of the epidemic in India. So, what are the main SARS-CoV-2 mutations that have appeared in India? Will these mutations have a greater negative impact on human society?

    According to report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India at the end of March, the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG) discovered a new mutant virus that carries E484Q and L452R mutations, which may lead to immune escape and increased infectivity. This mutant virus, which was originally called a “double mutant” COVID variant by the media, has been officially named B.1.617 by the scientific community, which contains a total of 15 mutations, of which 6 occur on the spike protein, and 3 of them are critical.

    According to reports, both L452R and E484Q mutations occur in the region where the spike protein binds to the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor in human cells. L452R improves the ability of the virus to invade cells, and E484Q helps enhance the immune escape of the virus. Another mutation in the spike protein, P681R, also allows the virus to enter the cell more efficiently. The combined effect of these mutations makes the virus more infectious and can partially avoid some neutralizing antibodies. It is worth noting that it has now spread to at least 18 countries or regions around the world. Of the 1,000 B.1.617 sample sequencing results submitted to the database, 786 were from India, 317 were from the United Kingdom, and 109 were from the United States.

    According to multiple media reports, Indian researchers also discovered a mutant virus named B.1.618, which currently spreads mainly in West Bengal. B.1.618 is a new mutation found in India, which carries the E484K mutation that can enhance the immune escape ability of the virus. At present, there are still many unknowns about the ability of B.1.618 to cause secondary infections and break through the protection of the vaccine to cause infections, and more experimental data are needed to evaluate the protective efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine against this mutant virus.

    "Although the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines against these mutant viruses needs further research," said a coronavirus expert from Creative Biolabs, "vaccinations can always put you in a better position to fight against infection."

    The public may be very panic about the endless mutations of SARS-CoV-2, but in fact, the mutation always exists, but this does not mean that the epidemic will break out as a greater catastrophe. It should be made clear that all kinds of viruses are constantly mutating, and this naturally includes coronaviruses. There is a possibility of the emergence of more infectious and pathogenic SARS-CoV-2 mutations, but whether it can cause another outbreak depends on many factors. For example, in the case of herd immunity, the high immune barrier rate is equivalent to reducing the virus’ culture medium while building a wall to protect those who cannot get immunity, and the epidemic will naturally not be able to break out on a large scale.

    Article from Nature also concluded that the vaccine is still working. If you get vaccinated, you will be protected, and the severity will be less. WHO experts have also predicted that when the vaccination rate reaches about 70%, an immune barrier will be built and the epidemic will end.

    In short, SARS-CoV-2 has indeed had a significant impact on a global scale, but with the development and use of vaccines, this impact will gradually weaken until everything returns to normal. In this post-pandemic era, instead of being frightened and pessimistic, keeping up with science is definitely a better choice.