How COVID-19 Variants Could Change Timelines

January 11, 2021
Kevin Kunzmann

The ability to monitor, mitigate, and prevent new variant spread could influence the odds of majority immunity.

New, more transmissible variants of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) are beginning to circulate the globe.

Though this is a matter that—as explained to Contagion by Adam S. Lauring, MD, PhD—was anticipated with an uncontrolled pandemic virus, it is still going to require an improvement in monitoring and prevention measures immediately.

In the second segment of an interview with Contagion, Lauring, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan, and author of a recently published JAMA viewpoint on genetic SARS-CoV-2 variants, discussed the need for vital means of surveillance right now: SARS-CoV-2 testing, sequencing, and contact tracing.

“They’re somewhat unglamorous but that’s really the key to control,” he said. “Until we have vaccines in the arms of a large percentage of our population, these are the tools we’re going to need to deploy better.”

Lauring highlighted his team’s current work in improved sequence-based surveillance, a strategy which he hopes allows them to more efficiently target control measures, including contact tracing, depending on the variant spread.

He stressed that, though the newest variants do not appear to be more lethal, their greater susceptibility of spread may mean increased cases—and, as such, more critical and fatal cases.

The ability to mitigate or prevent emerging variant spread may also influence the possibility of the virus becoming a constant or seasonal threat.

“It’s certainly possible that this could just become one of the viruses people get sick with every year,” Lauring said. “Nut the hope is we have the vaccines, and we get enough immunity out there that it hasn’t been as bad as it’s been in the last year.”