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Editorial: As coronavirus mutates rapidly, GOP leaders must act to avert more disaster

Editorial: As coronavirus mutates rapidly, GOP leaders must act to avert more disaster

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Editorial: As coronavirus mutates rapidly, GOP leaders must act to avert more disaster

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Missouri fights a delta-variant surge

Dr. Will Sistrunk, a infectious disease specialist at Mercy Hospital Springfield, gives an updates on coronavirus patient counts at Mercy Hospitals in Southwest Missouri on July 7. About 97% of Mercy's 120 coronavirus patients are unvaccinated, Sistrunk said.

(Nathan Papes/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)

Nathan Papes

By the Editorial Board

A large, uncontrolled human experiment is taking place across Missouri, where the deadly delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and less than 40% of the population is fully vaccinated. A pair of new, peer-reviewed studies released on July 7 and 8 demonstrate just how reckless this experiment has become. This research shows that the delta variant, created by mutations in the original virus, has now developed strategies to evade key immune responses in the body.

As many as three-quarters of new coronavirus infections in Missouri are caused by the delta variant, which was first identified in India and has since spread around the world. The delta variant first appeared in southwest Missouri in June and has since caused hospital intensive care units in Springfield to reach capacity. Infections are on the rise again in St. Louis. The variant is more easily transmitted than the original virus and now is shown to have the ability to blunt the body’s immune response.

Those fully vaccinated should be protected against the delta variant, but people who received only one of the two-shot vaccine regimens produced by Pfizer or Moderna are not. Just 39.5% of Missouri residents are fully vaccinated, compared with 48% of all Americans. That means 60% of Missourians are not protected.

All viruses mutate. The coronavirus doesn’t have an especially high rate of mutation compared with some other viruses such as Hepatitis C. But it has infected millions of people over the past 18 months, giving it tens of millions of opportunities to mutate.

Researchers from the French Pasteur Institute published findings in ongoing efforts to determine how long the vaccines’ protective effect will last in patients exposed to the delta variant. Pfizer indicates that people will need a booster of its vaccine before the end of the year.

U.S. scientists, meanwhile, examined two slightly different lineages of the delta variant. One of the variants they studied was found to be nearly 700% less likely to be neutralized by the immune system, while the second was about 300% less likely — an indication of how potent the variant is.

Without a fully vaccinated population, Missouri risks a new wave of infections that could quickly return the state to those anxious days of 2020, when the original virus was spreading and there were no effective treatments or vaccines. Even worse, Missourians risk becoming a breeding ground for new, more infectious and deadly variants that won’t respond to available vaccines.

Missouri’s political leaders, starting with Gov. Mike Parson, must recognize these warning signs and join doctors, nurses and public health professionals in urging people to get the vaccine without delay. Missouri’s hardest-hit counties are led or represented by Republicans, as are the Legislature and governor’s office. The time for politicizing this pandemic is over. By November, when flu season starts, it may already be too late to prevent disaster.

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