Covid-19 and it's Variants: an essay on the battle to survive mutations, in progress
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Since the tautologous global pandemic began in early 2020 our knowledge of Covid-19 has increased almost exponentially and dialectically; mirroring the scientific process of discovery and medical innovation itself (Honigsbaum, 2019: 1). Indeed, our scientific and medical knowledge of how variants affect us is an ongoing process and our ability to fight them with or without vaccines a seemingly never ending battle. a1
This essay is designed to present the research on where variants are most prevalent. Moreover what the state of scientific and medical knowledge on these as yet uncontrollable mutations currently is. In other words, it is designed to evaluate whether we are at the beginning or the end of this pandemic; and if the end of this one simply brings us closer to the next as is predicted (Honigsbaum, 2019).
A previous essay on this blog called 'When a Pandemic arrives and how to survive it when it leaves' argued the pandemic was at an end unless we wanted to spend all our lives in a state of existential crisis, and that we needed to internalise and rationalise death. But is it really possible to stop worrying yet, and so end our state of constant reflexivity: that is our state of hyper-vigilance, if indeed we are all concerned?
New Variant, Old Virus?
As this essay is being written it is reported that a new variant has been found in Turkey, as yet unknown i However we know of the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gamma variants, previously known by region or country of suspected origin. Alpha, Kent, in the UK; Beta, South Africa; Gamma, Brazil and Delta, India. Every time the Covid-19 virus invades a human cell it replicates. During this process errors occur altering the virus's genetic code. These errors can halt the replication process or cause mutations. This is how new variants emerge. a2
We know that the transmissibility of these variants vary and that vaccines do not guarantee total immunity, particularly with regard to the Delta variant as a number of people in the UK who have been double-jabbed have contracted this variant, although the illness is said to be milder, less likely to require hospitalisation and the same regarding death. Discovered in India but widely transmitted in the UK, the Delta variant is now rife across the USiii. Thus It is perhaps worth briefly revisiting the biological mechanism by which the spike protein of the SARS-COV-2 enters and infects the human body, in order to illustrate the vulnerability of us all and to ask whether we are facing an intractable virus.
The Spike Protein
In layman’s terms then, swathed in sugar molecules - "a luxurious sugar coat disguising itself from the body's immune system 'like a wolf in sheep's clothing' (b) called glycals - the spike protein binds itself in the receptor binding domain (RBD). It is said the fungi like protusions of the spike protein contain tiny spikes, hence the name. These embed in the back of the throat and nasal passages. The consequences of resulting infection by Covid-19 are well known: severe acute respiratory failure. The vaccines developed to fight this are discussed in a previous blog. In short, these produce neutralising antibodies (NABs) in the body, some like Moderna are said to produce these in the back of the throat and nasal passages. The hope is that vaccines will eventually come on stream that are all capable of doing this.
A Setback in the War
It is argued that to win the war against variants we need to vacciate people faster than the virus can transmit. However, UK (3) scientists have predicted the emergence of a variant that will defeat the vaccines currently available. With neutralising antibodies said to be waning (f), (although the body's natural T and B cells are said to take over), will we be overwhelmed by for example, the variant thought to have been found in Turkey? Can we win the war, not just the battle? In the US Dr Fauci (d)has stated that the virus and its variants can be halted by spring of 2022 if the total population is vaccinated. However at the start of August only half the US population had been. With vaccination having taken second place to quarantine and border control in New Zealand and Australia, and while the poorer countries of the world are deprived of these, it seems almost inevitable that a variant will overwhelm us.
Honigsbaum (2019) argues in his book which spans the century from the Spanish Flu to Covid-19, that we will see another pandemic for a number of reasons: our rapacious appetite to exploit the planet's resources and encroachment onto previously uninhabited land; which he argues led to HIV, and Ebola, as well as to the outbreak of SARS-COV-1 and SARS-COV-2 and MERS. Honigsbaum also argues however, that we are never far from epidemics and pandemics and these are recurrrent throughout history, especially the last century. An essay on this blog and at SERRC called A Quiet Life (e) argued the same, tracing plague back as far as to 5000BC in Europe and to Greek antiquity. What is perhaps of most note in Honigsbaum’s writing is the argument that science, following Kuhn and perhaps conversely Popper, alters its horizons and follows the daily shifting sands in its knowledge of these viral outbreaks; we conquer each one as we learn more about each new deadly foe. Keeping this in mind, perhaps there is cause to have hope we will defeat each new variant in the dialectical movement that is science and medicine.
Mark Honigsbaum (2019). The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion from the Spanish Flu to Covid-19. London Penguin: Random House.
e “A Quiet Life: An Essay Inspired by Steve Fuller’s ‘When A Virus Goes Viral—Life With COVID-19’,”