Robin Schoenthaler, MD
5 min readDec 31, 2020

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Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

Covid Mutations: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Be Not Terrified. But Keep Your Eye on The Spike.

Electron microscopy showing SART-CoV-2 viral particles

Lots of people I know are worried about the new “variants” of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19 illness) now being observed in England and South Africa. Some headlines call them the “mutated Covid” (an ugly, scary word) or “a new kind of Covid” that may be more transmissible.

People are wondering what a “mutated Covid” could mean to us, how it might affect travel or schools, and the possible impact on vaccination effectiveness. Many people (and headlines) have started to theorize about Worst Possible Scenarios. But if you look beyond the headlines, the reality is we don’t yet know if this is a dangerous situation.

Viruses mutate all the time, with no impact whatsoever; it’s a normal turn of events. Scientists looking for new mutations via genomic sequencing have already found tens of thousands of different Covid mutations (Wuhan’s virus is different than Italy’s). They will find more mutations, every day, every week.

In England, where scientists do a lot of genomic sequencing, they have found increasing numbers of a “variant” of SARS-CoV-2 with about 20 specific mutations. Many of these mutations have been seen before with no adverse consequences. A few are involved with the spike protein.

Since they’re seeing more of this specific “dominant” variant, it makes them wonder if this means it has become more transmissible, e.g., it can more easily get into our cells. The mathematical models in their report implied, yes, this variant might well be easier to catch.

Politicians, previously slow to react, responded to this news by immediately issuing strong travel and social distancing rules. However, it’s important to realize these recommendations are based on mathematic models — not real life — and also without data on lethality, immunity, vaccine effectiveness, etc.

These new rules were not based on hospitalizations or deaths, or lab tests where they isolate the actual live virus, just conjecture. These are educated guesses based on elegant models but with incomplete and evolving data.

It is another “abundance of caution” moment in a pandemic that has had many…

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Robin Schoenthaler, MD

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com