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‘Variant factory’: The unvaccinated pose a risk to more than just themselves

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After setting lofty vaccination goals for the summer, Manitobans are coming out in droves to get their shots — and the province is cruising along to their previous targets.

In fact, Manitoba should cross over the second vaccination threshold of its three-phase reopening plan nearly a month ahead of schedule.

The province was aiming to have 75 per cent of eligible residents immunized with one shot, and 50 per cent with two, by the August long weekend.

Now, that’s likely to happen later this week.

But a Winnipeg epidemiologist warns even once that milestone is met, and further goals are reached, it’s not the end of the fight against COVID-19.

Read more: COVID-19: Pfizer deliveries confirmed for Manitoba, walk-in for youth opens in Winnipeg

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“It’s a good, succinct term that I hope catches people’s attention: ‘variant factory,'” Cynthia Carr tells 680 CJOB.

What is that?

Carr says it could be the body of anyone who gets COVID-19.

“The virus cannot live and thrive outside of a living cell — it needs that cell to survive.”

“If you are not vaccinated, you are a target for the virus. The virus enters in your cell — and once it’s in there, it makes millions of copies.”

But sometimes, that frenzied copying process messes up, and mutations are born.

“Sometimes they don’t matter, they’re of no consequence, they don’t make the virus stronger,” Carr explains. “But sometimes, it does matter. These mutations become a new variant, and if it’s important enough, it becomes a variant of concern.”

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And it’s those future, yet-unknown variants that make the difference between full vaccination, and full protection.

Read more: Border rules start to ease for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers on Monday

“No vaccine is 100 per cent effective at preventing illness or transmitting the virus,” Carr says. “Although they’re fully-vaccinated, they could still contract it and pass it on to someone else, though they might not get as sick.”

“[But] as those variants of concern change, and they might be better at evading the immune response, that new version may not be recognized by a vaccine.”

Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin has previously said Manitoba is home to several unique variants, but none have become variants of concern like Alpha, or more recently, Delta.

More cases means a larger chance for new variants to be born. Thankfully, Manitoba’s numbers are just a fraction of what they once were.

But that’s not the case in other parts of the world, where those who’ve received a shot are few and far between.

According to ourworldindata.org, the continent of Africa had only reached 2.68 per cent of their total population by early June.

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Read more: U.K. PM calls on G7 leaders to vaccinate world against COVID-19 by end of 2022

That’s why countries like the United States and Great Britain are pledging to donate hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to struggling countries.

At home in Manitoba, one may feel helpless to that situation, but public health officials are still urging them to sign up for their shots to help improve the outlook domestically.

Officials like Manitoba’s Deputy Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Jazz Atwal, have also repeatedly asked Manitobans not to pass judgement on others in the province who haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet.

Read more: COVID-19: Manitoba community vaccine outreach to provide 20K doses

He’s previously said some people may not have instant access to the shot, and others are looking for credible information before signing up.

The province says that’s why the next phase of the vaccine rollout, where it tries to reach everyone who wasn’t readily willing and able to get their shot, is so important.

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