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Do we now have a mutant COVID-19 strain?

Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to the patients.

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A “medical consultant” posted this in social media: “My med classmates and I had an online meeting last night. We’re all from different specialties, and most of them are still working in hospitals (MMC, TMC, St Luke’s Global, UE). They talked about their first-hand experiences, and I just learned the following bad news….”

“What’s more troubling is that the consultants are stumped, because the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave. Due to rapid and uncontrolled transmission in the past months, the virus has clearly had enough opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain here in the Philippines. If this strain spreads to other countries, then the Philippine government’s failed handling of the pandemic will have definitively put the rest of the world in danger.”

Before discussing this, because of the prevalence of fake news in social media, it is important to verify first the source of the post, clarify and qualify the statements made, and, if it is impossible to verify, talk to a reliable source who is an authority on the matter, such as Department of Health (DoH).

From the above post, we gather the following premises — first, the post, if true, is coming from a group of “medical consultants” with different specializations and staying in various hospitals. It is not known if these “consultants” are doctors. However, it is important to consider their statements, even if unverified, because they report a warning of a very dangerous situation, namely a deadlier mutant virus, no longer the original COVID-19, that may now be present in the Philippines. The “consultants,” however, presumably have first-hand field data, as opposed to secondary data from surveys or statistics.

Second, the post says “the virus has clearly had opportunity to mutate into a more dangerous strain.” This is an inconclusive assumption rather than a fact. It also states that “the new strain has been targeting even young adults. Doctors have noticed that there have been a lot of victims from the 20-to-40 age range recently.” First, is it really a “new” strain? Second, this again may be coincidence rather than the presence of a new mutant strain, while it has been established by experts that the original COVID-19 relatively does not infect younger groups.

Third, the post states “the medications and medical management that used to work during the first wave are no longer as effective in this second wave.” This needs further study and verification. It needs more scientific data. After playing devil’s advocate to the post and demolishing it into more of opinion rather than fact, let us now hear from the DoH.

DoH immediately gave a reply that the report was not true, that there is no such mutant strain in the Philippines. Playing devil’s advocate to the DoH statement, my question is: How does DoH know? Did it do field research to verify this before issuing that sweeping statement? Why is it quick to reply? Did it have comprehensive field data? Is it possible DoH issued the statement just to prevent panic, at the expense of the truth? Instead of a sweeping unfounded denial, DoH could have first simply said it will investigate the matter and give a report later, rather than give a knee-jerk reply which aroused suspicion.

There have been talks on the Internet of different mutations, categorized simply as “A” or “B” in different geographic locations. These mutants may be different from each other and their distinct effects are still not yet fully known. While we study these mutants, which may take long, other new mutants may emerge, rendering these studies obsolete.

Rapid mutations can also render newly achieved vaccines, which take years to make and more years to mass produce, to be obsolete by the time they get out to patients. Finally, if different mutant strains somehow “cross-breed,” they may produce “monsters” beyond our comprehension. This is the reality of rapid mutations scientists are being challenged to respond to. We must pray hard, if we are helpless to intervene.

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