And what that tells us about the pandemic.

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Like any virus, SARS-CoV-2 has been mutating constantly since the beginning of the pandemic. Until November of 2020, though, that didn’t seem to matter. That’s when scientists in the United Kingdom noticed an alarming change: The virus had mutated in a way that made it more transmissible. Within a month, similar reports were emerging from places around the world. Suddenly, it seemed the virus was changing at an alarming rate.

SARS-CoV-2 hasn’t actually been mutating faster, though. Instead, by letting it spread around the world, we’ve just given it more and more opportunities to mutate as it replicates. The result is that, after countless random mutations, there are signs that the virus is beginning to adapt to our natural defenses. And because it’s completely normal for a virus to change over time, we shouldn’t expect it to stop. The only real way to stop those changes is to stop giving the virus so many opportunities.

Read more coverage from Vox on Covid-19 variants:
https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/22247525/covid-19-variants-uk-south-africa-brazil-b117-why-now
https://www.vox.com/22385588/covid-19-vaccine-variant-mutation-n440k-india-moderna-pfizer-b1617
https://www.vox.com/22298973/covid-19-vaccine-mutation-coronavirus-variant-moderna-pfizer-johnson

Data on Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates:
https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations

Interactive data on the SARS-CoV-2 genome:
https://nextstrain.org/ncov/global

More on the variants:
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/health/coronavirus-variant-tracker.html

Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com.

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