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COVID-19 Variants | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #26

COVID-19 Variants

Be it resolved, we should be very worried about the variants.

Guests
Salim Abdool Karim
Richard Schabas

About this episode

B1617, which has plunged India into a catastrophic third wave of COVID-19 and is spreading globally, is the latest “variant of concern” that has emerged since the pandemic began over a year ago. Many leading infectious disease experts are warning that our failure to contain the spread of the virus, with dozens of high population countries nowhere close to acquiring vaccines, has created the ideal conditions for dangerous new variants to emerge threatening the efficacy of vaccines. They say that only a strategy of maximum global suppression using all the public health tools at our disposal in combination with a massive ramp-up of vaccination rates in every country will prevent COVID-19 from becoming a serious, endemic illness capable of killing millions annually.

Critics of this view say that once again we over-estimating the severity of COVID as well as our ability to control the virus’s spread. They say that the mutations it generates are a normal part of the evolution of all viruses and COVID-19 is no exception: there have already been thousands of new variants over the past year and the majority are not associated with a change in infectiousness or deadliness. Mutations also tend to repeat across variants making it possible for vaccine makers to target the changes that are associated with increased risk of infection and death with booster shots. Herd immunity achieved by vaccination and naturally occurring infections among healthy individuals, will steadily bring COVID-19 to heel making it a manageable disease for humanity.

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Guests

Salim Abdool Karim

"Our concern is that variants are going to become more common and may be able to escape vaccine immunity. The AstraZeneca vaccine is only 10% effective in South Africa against the variant."

Salim Abdool Karim

"Our concern is that variants are going to become more common and may be able to escape vaccine immunity. The AstraZeneca vaccine is only 10% effective in South Africa against the variant."

Salim Abdool Karim, MBChB, PhD, FRS, is director of the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and CAPRISA Professor for Global Health at Columbia University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard University, Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Cornell University and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is a member of the WHO Science Council. He is the chair of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Committee for HIV. He is a member of the Africa Task Force for Coronavirus and the Lancet Commission on COVID-19. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society. 

Richard Schabas

"Our response to the pandemic has been driven by an exaggerated assessment of the threat. The variants are the natural evolution of the virus, and their net impact so far has been a modest increase in transmissibilities. The vaccines work, and they work well."

Richard Schabas

"Our response to the pandemic has been driven by an exaggerated assessment of the threat. The variants are the natural evolution of the virus, and their net impact so far has been a modest increase in transmissibilities. The vaccines work, and they work well."

Dr. Richard Schabas is a Canadian physician with fellowships in public health and internal medicine and a masters degree in epidemiology. Dr. Schabas practiced medicine for forty years in a variety of roles. He was Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health from 1987-97. He played an important role in Toronto’s SARS outbreak in 2003 as Chief of Staff at York Central Hospital. Dr. Schabas has published extensively on a range of public health issues, including quarantine. He has been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 lockdowns.

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