Explainer: How COVID-19 variants develop

Zoe Guillory has been fighting a COVID breakthrough infection for almost two weeks. The coughing, hacking, fatigue. 

"I couldn’t get out of the bed, I couldn’t move," said Guillory.

Guillory is active and has her own business but hasn’t been able to work since she contracted the virus. 

She says it’s not clear if she contracted the Delta variant or another variant. 

"I’m curious. You begin to wonder… where are they being developed," she asked.  

We wanted to know too...so we asked UCLA Emergency Medicine Professor Matt Waxman. He told us it’s’ like a copying machine. Think of those pieces of paper flying out of the machine’s tray as cells reproducing in our bodies. That is where variants develop; Waxman says they are essentially bad copies or errors. 

"Most of these errors don’t result in severe disease. Some of these errors give an advantage to the virus and can make them stick to our cells easier as we’ve seen with some of these variants," Waxman described.  

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He says these changes are very small in the cell’s genetic code and some of the changes allow the virus to be more transmissible, as we saw with the Delta strain which is about 50% more transmissible.

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Sometimes they can develop sub-variants as with the Delta strain.. Delta Plus variant. But, to Waxman when you take the vaccine that helps deter your body from becoming a variant making machine.

The Biden Administration is talking about fast tracking boosters for those who are immunocompromised. Waxman says the FDA is working to get data from the CDC and they’ll consider amending their emergency use authorization as Waxman says, "To allow us as clinicians to give a third shot to those patients most vulnerable."