For weeks, even months, we’ve been hearing about dangerous new mutations of the coronavirus, and they’ve been identified in cases in the U.S. There’s a UK strain, a South African strain, a Brazilian strain, and still others, which differ in seemingly minor ways. Nevertheless, these variants are said to be more infectious. It’s also been reported that the South African and Brazilian strains might resist antibodies from prior infections from earlier strains.
Kyle Lamb has provided the following charts to put things in perspective:
Just to round things out, here is the trend in cases worldwide:
There is a great deal of concern about the new variants. A search for “COVID-19 variants” turns up plenty of scary articles. However, there is some evidence that the new variants are not as dangerous as alarmists contend. The resistance to specific antibodies does not necessarily imply resistance to protection by T-cells. As Youyang Gu points out, even if a new strain becomes “dominant”, that does not imply that cases will reverse their decline. This study indicates that the Pfizer vaccine is protective against both the UK and South African strains, and there is evidence that other vaccines offer adequate protection as well (and see here).
The charts demonstrate that the new strains haven’t arrested or reversed the declines in infections witnessed worldwide since early January. That doesn’t mean the mutations haven’t made a difference: perhaps the declines would have been faster in their absence. And we don’t know what the future will hold as the virus in various forms becomes endemic. Still, it’s reassuring to see that the increased transmissibility of the new strains hasn’t overcome factors that have contributed to the recent declines, which in all likelihood are related to increasing immunity in the population with a minor assist from vaccinations (thus far). As Lamb wryly notes about the recent declines in transmission: “Just saying”.