3 ways to safeguard communities from emerging COVID-19 variants - Primary Health

3 ways to safeguard communities from emerging COVID-19 variants

  • August 30, 2023

  • Adi Chandrasekhar, MD, MPH, FACP

  • 2 minutes

COVID-19 infections aren’t going away, but there are ways to keep you, your loved ones, and your community safe from infection.

Most people now view the COVID-19 pandemic in their rearview mirror; however, infections continue and COVID variants continue to emerge. It is natural for a virus like COVID-19 to accumulate mutations over time as it infects more individuals. Many of these mutations are neutral in terms of their effect on the disease. However, some mutations have the potential to increase the ability of the virus to infect contacts or increase its ability to cause more severe disease.

One variant that has been causing some consternation among public health officials is the BA.2.86 variant (nicknamed the Pirola variant). This variant appears to have more than 35 mutations compared to the previously dominant XBB.1.5 variant. Interestingly, the Pirola variant has now been detected in multiple parts of the world, which suggests the variant may have been circulating for some time.

Variant severity

It is too early to know whether these accumulated mutations will make the Pirola variant more severe. However, most scientists think it may not cause a wave comparable to prior variants. One big reason for that is the high levels of immunity in the general population that occur through a mix of vaccination and prior COVID-19 infections. This means infections can result in few to no symptoms even as it spreads through the community.

As always, it would still present a serious risk to the most vulnerable members of the population: the elderly, the immunocompromised and those with certain chronic conditions. Even those outside of this risk group may end up dealing with long-term complications of COVID infection. 

Fortunately, we have several ways to keep communities safer:

  • Testing and surveillance remain important in understanding the burden of disease and emergence of new variants. Home testing is widely available, though costs may be higher now that the public health emergency has expired. There is also the challenge of most home test results not being shared and therefore not accurately contributing to population figures. 
  • Vaccination remains a powerful tool in blunting the impact of new variants. 
  • Basic public health measures including handwashing, using masks in crowded spaces, and self-quarantining when sick can all help reduce the risk of spreading infection.

Schedule a booster clinic

To sum it up, COVID-19 is here to stay and we should expect to see new variants emerge. As we head into colder weather ahead, it serves as a useful reminder to get a booster dose of the vaccine when eligible to minimize risks to ourselves and those around us.

Primary.Health makes it easy to schedule a community vaccination or diagnostic testing clinic.

Disclaimer: This blog content and linked materials are not intended as individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be considered as such. Any readers with medical concerns should contact a licensed healthcare provider. This blog is provided for informational purposes only.