What are the different COVID-19 variants and why do they matter?


More than a year after the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Canada, several new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have developed that are causing concern within the scientific and medical community.

A variant is identified when enough mutations have occurred to change a minor portion of a virus’s genetic code. There have been other variants prior to the recent ones, but they were generally no more concerning than the existing virus.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among others, are tracking these variants closely, however, due to the worrisome nature of some of the mutations.

Some changes are concerning due to the ease with which the variants attach themselves to human cells, making them much more transmissible, while others, like the Brazil variant, have also raised doubt over the effectiveness of herd immunity.

Some health experts say these variants demonstrate the urgent need to get the pandemic under control to prevent a worsening situation, with the vaccine playing a crucial role.

“Viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate. And if you stop their replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday at a White House news briefing.

-- with files from CTV News --