Top Chinese Virologist Known as 'Bat Woman' Warns New COVID Variants Will Keep Emerging

In a call for the public to keep getting vaccinated, one of the top virologists in China has warned that new variants of the coronavirus will continue to emerge.

Shi Zhengli, known to some as "the bat woman," said the world should be prepared to live with a continuing stream of variants for the foreseeable future, according to the South China Morning Post.

"As the number of infected cases has just become too big, this allowed the novel coronavirus more opportunities to mutate and select," Shi said. "New variants will continue to emerge."

Because of the virus's evolving variants, Shi emphasized that members of the public should not hesitate to get vaccinated. Other experts agree that the longer the virus is able to spread among a broad segment of the population, the more likely it is that it will mutate into new variants, some of which may be more resistant to vaccines.

"That will happen...if we don't get good control over the community spread, which is the reason why I and my colleagues keep saying and over again it is very important to get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can," Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week about the looming threat of variants.

"People who say, 'I don't want to get vaccinated because it's me and I'll worry about me, I'm not having any impact on anybody else,' that's just not the case. Because when people don't get vaccinated it allows the virus to circulate through the community," he told ABC.

china covid-19 variants
A top Chinese virologist says that the public should be prepared to coexist with more coronavirus variants. Above, a medical worker takes a swab sample from an elderly resident at her home in Nantong, China. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Shi is the head of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the much-discussed Wuhan Institute of Virology. An unfounded conspiracy theory—notably espoused by, among others, Republican lawmakers in the U.S.—alleges that the pandemic resulted from an engineered coronavirus leaked from the institute. Shi's research has found that the virus most likely originated in Chinese horseshoe bats before jumping to humans.

The Delta variant is the mutation receiving the most attention now. More infectious than the original strain, Delta is one of the primary reasons for the recent resurgence of virus cases in the U.S., mainly among unvaccinated people. Health experts say the vaccines currently available still offer suitable protection from COVID-19 caused by Delta.

Another mutation causing major concern is the Lambda variant, which has recently been detected in Louisiana. Unlike Delta, Lambda appears to show some resistance to vaccines, according to Japanese researchers. It is unclear how resistant it is to vaccines available in the U.S., as the tests conducted on it used Chinese doses.