Mar 31, 2021 - Health

Advocates warn: The clock is ticking on new variants

Illustration of a vaccine bottle with a picture of the Earth on its label.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Some experts say the world may only have a year or less to stave off a new round of COVID-19 variants that could evade the existing vaccines, according to survey conducted by advocates trying to speed up vaccinations in developing nations.

Why it matters: Variants emerge when viruses spread widely, so quickly vaccinating the entire world is the best way to curb new variants. But some experts are afraid we won't get there fast enough.

The big picture: Much of the developing world won't have widespread access to COVID vaccines until next year, if not later — giving new variants time to form, and to spread.

  • In a survey of 77 epidemiologists, about two-thirds said the world likely has a year or less before the virus changes so much that existing vaccines wouldn't be effective against the new strains.
  • That would require booster shots or new vaccines.
  • The survey was sponsored by the People's Vaccine Alliance, an organization that wants to strip some intellectual property protections from vaccine makers in the hopes of producing more doses.

What they're saying: “The virus doesn’t respect borders and new variants somewhere on the planet mean none of us are safe," Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University, said in the survey.

Methodology: The survey was carried out between February 17 and March 25, 2021. Survey respondents include epidemiologists, virologists and infection disease specialists in 28 countries.

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