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Vaccines and Mutations

By Dr. George Voigtlander

Vaccines and Mutations

There has been a proposal from President-Elect Biden to release vaccine which had been held in reserve for giving second doses of the vaccination to healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The question is whether it's better to have wider spread partial immunity or more focused more complete immunity.  Other countries have debated and begun doing more widespread partial vaccinations.  I could not find any hard data to support this plan.  The CDC is recommending that the vaccine be given as approved by the FDA, that is two doses be given at the recommended interval, since there is data supporting this. Dr. Michael Osterholm, a world-renowned infectious disease specialist from Minnesota feels that there is adequate vaccine to both expand vaccination and still provide appropriately timed second doses.  He based this on manufacturing capacity and the likelihood of a third vaccine becoming available.

Mutations, beyond what we learned from X-Men comics, occur often. Sometimes these are disastrous for the organism, sometimes neutral, and rarely, beneficial for the mutated organism.  Some viruses like influenza mutate often, others like measles, rarely.  Mutation most often occurs when the genetic material is copied during reproduction.  Miscopying occurs and a mutation happens.

How do we prevent spread of already mutated viruses?  We prevent the spread of the virus.  This means, continue what has been proven to work: masks, avoiding crowds, especially indoors, and frequent hand washing.  The British COVID mutation is more easily caught, but if it has less chance to get in our noses and throats, it has less chance of causing an infection.

Our present vaccines seem to provide protection against the British mutation.  Researchers are furiously investigating how well our vaccines will do against the South African mutation.

Is the vaccine the cure for the pandemic?  It is part of the cure.  Until we achieve herd immunity, that is 80% of the population is immune, we will need to use all means available, masks, distancing, avoiding crowded indoor spaces, and hand washing to decrease spread to a “safe” level.  Then we can get back to something resembling normal.