Colorado Springs microbiologist says immunization hesitation is opportunity for COVID variants

Herd immunity
Posted at 11:17 AM, Aug 26, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — There is another surge of COVID-19 cases happening in Colorado and across the country.

"The nature of viruses is to replicate as much and as fast as they can," said Microbiologist, Phoebe Lostroh. The Colorado College Associate Professor has spent her career researching and studying viruses. She is not surprised that data shows the current increase of infections is driven by a variant of the original virus.

Lostroh offers expertise along with a personal side to the pandemic. COVID-19 first showed up in Colorado Springs at a club for competitive bridge players. Lostroh is a member of the club. She knew the club members who lost their lives to the virus.

She is also aware of others who caught the virus after they were vaccinated. “I do know people who've been vaccinated and got breakthrough infections and also know people who have had an infection a long time ago, six, eight months ago and now have a breakthrough infection." She says it is important to know that vaccines did not fail. The people she knows suffered less severe illnesses because they were immunized.

She says the large number of people who are not getting vaccinated is a significant factor in the ongoing spread of the virus. Vaccination numbers are well short of what is needed to reach herd immunity.

Herd immunity achieves multiple purposes. First, it protects you and those around you from getting sick. The second part is stopping the cycle of mutation. Large numbers of people without immunizations create opportunities for viruses to mutate. "That allows the virus to sometimes gain new properties that make it more dangerous,” said Lostroh. You see it with the more aggressive COVID Delta variant.

Lostroh says getting vaccinated protects the individual and at the same time helps stop the virus from changing. "Protect ourselves from contributing to that cycle of mutation which can cause the virus to be able to evolve, to be even worse than it is already." Until herd immunity is reached, the likelihood of some form of the COVID virus surging, again and again, is much higher.

“I see this as an opportunity to learn from the past and do better,” said Lostroh. From personal experience, she knows the tragedy of COVID-19. It influences her professional passion for understanding viruses and sharing information on how to stop them.