Audio Interview

COVID-19 epidemiology and variants: new challenges and future of the pandemic

Published on February 24, 2021   18 min

Other Talks in the Series: Research and Clinical Interviews

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Interviewer: Professor Ralph Baric, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with us today to further update us on the recent findings regarding the epidemiology of the ongoing SARS-2 COVID-19 pandemic. We last discussed the evolution of this pandemic back in April of last year and today, the main point of concern is not so much the virus' infection rate, which we are controlling more or less by imposing citywide lock-downs, but rather the emergence of new variants. What are some of the most concerning variants discovered over the past couple of months and what phenotypic advantages have been granted by these variants' mutations? Prof. Barric: Well, new variants have new biological properties, and those biological properties can change the epidemiology of the expanding pandemic. For example, the first emerging variant that was really well-described and characterized was called D614G, which is a fancy name for a virus that emerged most likely in Southern Europe. It had a mutation in the spike glycoprotein and it rapidly became the dominant strain globally. So the question is why? The research that has come out regarding this virus indicates pretty clearly that it is more infectious. It can replicate better in cells from the nasal epithelium from humans, and in transmission models in hamsters, it can transmit more efficiently from a donor hamster to a recipient hamster with an airspace in between them, so it's airborne spread. It's also in head-to-head, what are called competition studies, where you infect cells with equal amounts of the ancestral virus and the new variant.
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COVID-19 epidemiology and variants: new challenges and future of the pandemic

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