Numerous infectious disease experts have criticized a report of a new, looming coronavirus variant far worse than delta or lambda, calling the report “fear mongering,” or stoking undue fear among the public by amplifying unlikely worst-case scenarios.
“Is there a Doomsday variant out there that shrugs off vaccines, spreads like wildfire and leaves more of its victims much sicker than anything we’ve yet seen?” reads a recent article published in Newsweek Magazine. “The odds are not high that we will see such a triple threat, but experts can’t rule it out.”
Dr. Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Newsweek “the next variant” “could be Delta on steroids,” with the reporter writing the delta variant “shattered optimism” in de-escalating the pandemic with vaccine rollout.
“We have every reason for optimism,” Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg, epidemiologist and associate researcher at University of California, Davis, told Fox News adding in part, “this line ‘Delta has now shattered that optimism,’ is not appropriate. I would indeed consider this fear mongering.”
As viruses evolve, they spin off variants, explains Dr. Marc Siegel, Fox News medical contributor and professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. Boosting the number of shots in arms helps prevent emerging variants by narrowing the opportunity for it to spread and mutate.
“Epidemiologists and infectious disease docs should continue to study variants, but it is not necessary (or healthy in my opinion) for the public to go around worrying about the variants getting increasingly worse,” Høeg wrote, suggesting Americans hold journalists to higher standards.
Numerous physicians reiterated to Fox News that the COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death despite the spread of concerning variants, including delta, as also noted in the report.
According to Dr. Monica Gandhi, infectious diseases and HIV doctor at UCSF, we cannot eliminate COVID-19 due to its high transmissibility and our lacking native immunity, but we can control the virus, which may ultimately cause mild symptoms in a small fraction of vaccinated individuals, and outbreaks of severe disease among those who have yet to receive shots. She also emphasized the complexity in the immune system and noted that “T cells form an in-breadth response across the spike protein and the variants cannot evade T cell immunity. T cells protect us against severe disease.”
Several experts told Fox News that, should the need arise, drugmakers behind mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna, can tweak the shot to better protect against variants with a quick turn-around time.
“The reason that the delta variant is winning out is because of how transmissible [it is],” Siegel said. “It’s not like some deadly version of this is going to compete and beat out the delta variant; the only thing that could take over from the delta variant is one that’s more contagious…I don’t see this changing enough so it suddenly reinfects everybody that’s already had it, and eludes the vaccine.”
Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases and chair of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau, noted he has some of the same concerns outlined in the Newsweek report, however the question is the likelihood of those concerns becoming reality.
“Everything in that article is correct but it doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to happen, these are possibilities,” he said, later adding, “We don’t know what will be the next variant to come. We have an inkling of some of the strains spreading throughout the world but which one will come to the United States or which one will become predominant in different parts of the world, Lambda or some of the other ones, really is unknown.”
According to Newsweek, “all told, the chances that a virus in the population will produce a much more dangerous variant in the course of a year would normally be extremely low. But when billions of people are infected with billions of copies of a virus, all bets are off.”
However, Høeg counters the claim, writing: “Given what we have seen with the previous variants, I don’t think there is any reason to believe future variants will be more likely to cause more severe disease.”
Dr. Imran Sharief, a California-based pulmonary disease specialist, told Fox News that “new variants are going to continue to emerge until we reach herd immunity and the virus loses its strength.”
Moving forward, Americans have to change their lifestyles and take preventive steps until we reach herd immunity, Sharief said, predicting the virus could lose its “potency” by “at least 2024.”
Høeg, researcher at UC Davis, concluded in writing: “It is a dangerous and destructive game for journalists to constantly be speculating about the worst possible scenarios (especially without solid evidence they are likely).”