As first world countries roll out their vaccination programs, travel will become safer in many countries and air travel will pose less of a health threat. For instance, since beginning vaccinations in the United States, new daily cases have dropped from 290,000 to 64,000 and daily deaths from 3,300 to 800. 20% of the U.S have been fully vaccinated, and vaccines will be available to all citizens by the summer of 2021.
For those that have been vaccinated, travel is significantly safer as vaccines have been proven to be 94% effective against the original COVID-19 pathogen. However, beginning in September of 2020, several more dangerous variants of COVID have emerged and the vaccine is not as effective against those variants. As a result, travelers should be aware of these variants, their effects, and where in the world they are occurring.
COVID Variants and Air Ambulance Transport
As health care providers, Air Ambulance and Airline Medical Escort companies’ employees have all been vaccinated during the first phase of vaccination programs. As a result, the risk of air ambulance employees transmitting the Covid-19 virus to patients and passengers during an air ambulance transport has been dramatically reduced.
Global Air Ambulance continues to closely monitor variants of COVID-19 and their potential to affect the safety of our patients and crew. Thus far, no variants pose a greater threat to the safety of our flights. The additional COVID precautions we have taken have made air ambulance transport much safer for patients and their travelling companions. Safety measures, including universal precautions, use of PPP by all staff, isolation pods for all COVID patients, and advanced sterilization of all equipment, allow us to safely transport patients regardless of new variants that have appeared across the world.
Nonetheless, much of the world remains in the throes of the COVID pandemic. Estimates are that less than five percent of the world will be vaccinated by the end of 2021. And while many first world countries have begun to experience dramatic declines in the incidence of COVID, in many countries, like Brazil, COVID transmission is accelerating.
Variants of COVID-19 virus have begun to spread worldwide, creating significant concern amongst the world’s health agencies. Variants, such as the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, are being closely monitored for their transmission rates, mortality rates, and vaccine effectiveness to counteract their mutations. Global Air Ambulance continues to monitor these variants as well to safeguard the welfare of our clients.
UK Variant B.1.1.7
First discovered in September of 2020, the UK variant quickly spread to account for 60 percent of all new cases in England, as the variant has a much higher transmission rate than the original COVID pathogen. Of the variants monitored in the U.S., the UK variant accounts for the majority. 20 thousand cases have been identified, with significant numbers of cases in California, Florida and Michigan. This variant is now spreading through dozens of other countries as well including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Jordan, Nigeria, Poland, Singapore and Spain.
Those who contract the UK variant of Covid-19 appear to have a 55% higher death rate than those who contract the original pathogen. Although the UK variant more easily infects persons with the virus, making it faster spreading than the original COVID pathogen, COVID vaccines do appear to be effective against it. For countries that do not have an effective vaccine rollout, this variant could overwhelm their health services.
South Africa Variant B.1.351
The South Africa variant of COVID-19 is worse than the UK variant of COVID-19. Like the UK variant of COVID, the South Africa variant spreads more rapidly than the original COVID pathogen. Thankfully, it does not appear to be deadlier than the original COVID pathogen.
COVID vaccines are less effective against the South Africa variant than against the original pathogen. The South Africa variant appears to have adapted to evading the antibodies created by the COVID vaccines. While vaccines are less effective against the South Africa variant, they do appear to protect from more serious illness. Pfizer states that the virus seems to be able to break through its vaccine’s defenses. A Moderna study showed 12 times less effectiveness against the South Africa variant than the original pathogen.
The South Africa variant has been identified in dozens of countries, but it is not as widespread as the original pathogen. In the United States, for instance, only 453 cases have been identified. Countries that have identified the South Africa variant within their borders include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Japan, Kenya, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
Brazil variant P1
While the incidence of COVID cases is decreasing in many parts of the world, the COVID epidemic is dramatically worsening in Brazil. Since October of 2020, daily cases of COVID have increased 500% to a rate of 76,000 per day. The Brazil death rate is now 3,000 deaths per day, 500% higher than the U.S. current rate. The majority of deaths in Brazil’s accelerating epidemic have been caused by the new Brazil variant P1.
Like the UK variant, the Brazil variant appears to be 50% more transmissible than the original COVID pathogen. Like the South African variant, the Brazil variant appears to be able to evade the immune response developed by COVID vaccines. It also has a stronger capacity to bind to human cells, making it more infectable. Because of these mutations, the Brazil variant also appears to be able to reinfect persons that have already been infected by the original COVID virus.
The Brazil variant is quickly spreading to other countries, including Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the United States. The CDC has so far identified 497 cases in the U.S. While vaccines have shown some protection against this new Brazil variant, the protection is less than from the original pathogen. Vaccine manufacturers are working on creating booster shots for variants such as Brazil’s and can, if needed, begin rolling out vaccine boosters within months of beginning production.
As vaccines become more prevalent in first world countries, travel will begin to open up worldwide. However, the vast majority of the world will remain unvaccinated throughout the remainder of 2021. And as COVID spreads, parts of the world will remain plagued by the COVID pandemic, overwhelming parts of the world’s health systems. Medical response and capability to treat COVID will remain inadequate and sparse in many parts of the world.
In addition, without the world’s ability to quickly vaccinate its entire population, COVID-19 will continue to adapt and mutate, creating more variants, potentially more infectious and more deadly. Current vaccines have proved thus far to give some protections to these new COVID variants, but the possibility of vaccinated persons to contract COVID variants or to be reinfected by variants even after contracting the original COVID variant continues as a major concern.
However, Air Ambulance companies such as Global Air Ambulance have learned how to safely transport our patients and their families during this COVID pandemic with all of its new variants. If you have a patient transport need, please call Global Air Ambulance at 800-948-1220 and we would be happy to discuss it with you.