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WSJ: Slow the Spread? Speeding It May Be Safer

re: COVID
re: WSJ

Nice to see a practical viewpoint for a change.

WSJ: Slow the Spread? Speeding It May Be Safer

2022-01-1, by By Vivek Ramaswamy and Apoorva Ramaswamy.

The Omicron variant is spreading across the globe, but so far the strain appears to be less deadly than its predecessors. That’s good news, but here’s a risk that policy makers in every country should appreciate: Policies designed to slow the spread of Omicron may end up creating a supervariant that is more infectious, more virulent and more resistant to vaccines. That would be a man-made disaster.

To minimize that risk, policy makers must tolerate the rapid spread of milder variants... To understand why, first consider an important scientific distinction, between antigenic drift and antigenic shift. Antigens are molecules—such as the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2—that an immune system detects as foreign. The host immune system then mounts a response. 

Antigenic drift” describes the process by which single-point mutations (small genetic errors) randomly occur during the viral replication process. The result is minor alterations to antigens such as the spike protein. If a point mutation makes the virus less likely to survive, that variant gradually dies off. But if the mutation confers an incremental survival advantage—say, the ability to spread more quickly from one cell to another—then that strain becomes more likely to spread through the population.

Each time an immune host is exposed to a slightly different antigenic variant, the host can tweak its immune response without becoming severely ill. And the more similar the new strain is to the last version the person fought off, the less risky that strain will be to the host.

By contrast, “antigenic shift” refers to a discontinuous quantum leap from one antigen (or set of antigens) to a very different antigen (or set of antigens). New viral strains—such as those that jump from one species to another—tend to emerge from antigenic shift. The biological causes of antigenic shift are often different from those of antigenic drift. For example, the physical swap of whole sections of the genome leads to more significant changes to viral genes than those caused by individual point mutations.

...Vaccinated and naturally immune people can revamp their immune response to new viral strains created by antigenic drift. Yet social distancing and masking increase the risk of vaccine-resistant strains from antigenic shift by minimizing opportunities for the vaccinated and naturally immune to tailor their immune responses through periodic exposures to incrementally “drifted” variants.

...

WIND: I’m not buying the idea that masks and social distancing work in any meaningful way—Omicron is unstoppable. But it’s obvious that the measures are highly destructive, COVID itself aside.

Protect the most vulnerable, but on Feb 1, declare it all over and move on.

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