TRACE Results Show Variants Still an Issue for Unvaccinated

Vulnerable populations are still at risk when it comes to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – despite nearly 66% of Oregon adults being partially vaccinated. The elderly, immune-compromised, and children under 12 should be aware that the virus is mutating and becoming a greater threat, according to Brett Tyler, Oregon State University Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing Director. Tyler also serves as a co-principal investigator of OSU’s Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-level coronavirus Epidemics (TRACE) Project. 

The TRACE Project provides vital information to the public in efforts to end the spread of COVID-19. At OSU, the project uses volunteer testing among its employees and students to determine the frequency of coronavirus infections on all campuses. The project also tests local neighborhoods and wastewater samples to determine infection rates in local communities. Thanks to TRACE, experts were able to predict in November that five in 1,000 people in Eugene were infected with the coronavirus.  

On May 31, the World Health Organization altered SARS-CoV-2 variant names to those from the Greek Alphabet for easier pronunciation and understanding. Previously, the WHO used letters and numbers categorized by country of origin.  

“Referring to the variants by countries is not really equitable,” Tyler told KLCC. He agreed the new system is a positive step.  

According to the Oregon Health Authority, there are five variants of concern currently in Oregon state. Tyler said that the Gamma variant was detected in 53% of locations and the Alpha variant in 94% of statewide samples. Although current coronavirus vaccines have shown to be effective against Alpha, it is important to remember that the virus can be undetectable in some people – making it much easier to spread to vulnerable populations.  

Children under 12 fall into this category because the FDA has not yet allowed the vaccine for emergency use for this group, even though children 12-15 are currently approved. Tyler said the unvaccinated are particularly vulnerable to the new variants because they are much more infectious than previous strands.  

As much of Oregon’s restrictions are likely to loosen this summer, the unvaccinated population should take caution. While Tyler said there is no reason not to get vaccinated, it is important that in the meantime people continue to wear masks and social distance. This rings especially true for younger children in schools this fall – where Tyler predicted that 1% of children could become gravely and potentially fatally ill.  

The TRACE Project visited Corvallis this past weekend where they conducted antibody testing and offered vaccines. You can view updates on the number of vaccinated Oregonians here 

Here at The Advocate, we encourage people to keep wearing masks, social distancing, and washing their hands as the world continues to vaccinate.   

By: Rebekah Harcrow