Will COVID-19 variants continue to emerge if vaccination rates don't rise?

July 22, 2021

New variants will continue to emerge if segments of the population persist in refusing vaccination. That’s because the more opportunities that SARS-CoV-2 has to circulate, the more infectious it can become. In fact, the World Health Organization recently cautioned that more contagious variants are “currently winning the race against vaccines.”

“Viruses naturally experience frequent changes — or mutations — in their genetic code, and while most of these changes are inconsequential, occasionally one may arise that enhances the ability of a virus to replicate, transmit or evade our immune systems,” explained Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State. “Being more successful, such viruses tend to out-compete other viruses and spread through the human population. This is what happened in the United States with the Delta variant.”

A mutation could also make a virus more dangerous, added Read. Research suggests that some of the new variants cause more severe disease than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Why does this matter?

“Because there are millions of children under age 12 who are not yet able to get vaccinated,” said Read, “and because there are many people who are unable to get vaccinated for health reasons, such as having an autoimmune disease.”

The death rate from COVID-19 in the United States is on the rise for the first time in many months, with 99% of deaths occurring among the unvaccinated, according to the CDC.

“You may not be worried about your own health,” Read said, “but if you choose to forgo vaccination, you are putting yourself and others at risk. People who become severely sick clog our hospitals, cause misery for their families and may trigger restrictions that impact our economy and our well-being. The best way to stop new variants from arising is to stop SARS-CoV-2, and vaccines are the most effective way to do that.”

Penn State students, faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine and should upload their vaccination records as soon as possible. With this information, University officials will be able to better assess vaccination rates across Penn State and plan for the fall activities that we all love. It’s not too late to get a vaccine. Find a location near you. The latest vaccination information is available on Penn State’s virus information website.

Last Updated August 11, 2021