January 23, 2022

New COVID-19 variant ignites concerns over future vaccine effectiveness

Though Democrats have insisted for months that COVID-19 vaccine uptake was the sure pathway out of the pandemic, news that the World Health Organization is meeting to address an alarming rise in a new, potentially antibody-resistant mutation is shaking those assumptions in a significant way.

The organization was set to convene representatives on Friday to examine what is said to be an dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in South Africa that may be due to a new variant, identified by South African minister of health Joe Phaahla, as B.1.1.529, as Fox News reported.

According to the BBC, there are fears that this new variant of the coronavirus features the largest number of distinct mutations of any other since the start of the pandemic, with health correspondent James Gallagher reporting that a one scientist referred to it as “horrific.”

Reports suggest that this new variant was initially detected in Botswana earlier in November and that the challenge now is to determine whether it evades standard immune responses on which public health authorities have relied in keeping outbreaks at bay.

As University of Oxford virology expert Aris Katzourakis explained, “A burning question is does it reduce vaccine effectiveness because it has so many changes,” and U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid revealed that there are now real worries that the variant has greater transmissibility than the delta variant, which swept the globe in past months.

According to British Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, the spike protein identified in this new variant is “dramatically different” from the one targeted by existing vaccines, therefore prompting that country to ban incoming flights from South Africa as well as five other nations from that continent starting Friday at noon.

As Politico reported, The Biden administration on Friday announced that it would also ban travel from South Africa and seven additional countries due to the emerging COVID-19 variant, reportedly in response to advice received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president.

As global concern over the “omicron” variant builds, the effects on the stock market are already being felt, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Composite all registering sharp declines.

Biden administration officials declared earlier this week that despite new lockdowns sweeping a number of European countries in recent days, the United States has no plans to institute similar restrictions, but whether the potential proliferation of this new variant causes a politically fraught change in direction is something that remains to be seen.

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