Eek! I dreamed up deadly mutant viruses long before COVID-19

Just as you get nice and immunized with COVID-19 vaccine, along comes a new terror—the viral variant! Deadlier strains of COVID are cropping up with alarming frequency. Such mutational shifts allow the new viruses to circumvent the immunity you acquired with your hard-won vaccination. So, are we doomed?

If it’s any consolation, this “variant” phenomenon is nothing new. Virologists have studied it for decades. Variants were first described among the influenza viruses of the great pandemic of 1918, in which they played a role in drawing out the pestilence for several years. And they’ve cropped up in every epidemic since. So even the frightfully named “Eek!” variant of COVID is not an entirely new concept.

But as we watch with dismay, this and other variants are arising around the globe with increasing frequency. So, it’s a cold comfort to know that they’re nothing new under the sun. Somehow, even the knowledge that humanity survived not just each new pandemic, but all the variant strains that piled onto previous plagues, is not entirely satisfying. Not when the virus threatens you and yours on a daily basis. Histories and statistics of mankind’s recovery from previous epidemics can’t help you shake the fear that, well, you might not be counted among the living when all is said and done.

So what’s this got to do with my fiction? Well, quite a bit, really. I anticipated this phenomenon in both of my epidemic novels, The Smallpox Incident and The Neah Virus. In each story, I laid out realistic scenarios based on my career-long studies of viruses and vaccines. My intent both times was to dramatize the social upheavals and desperate responses of medical and government agencies trying to avert catastrophe. Unsurprisingly to me, many events I portrayed have come true in the present emergency.

I also addressed the dire question, “Did this virus arise out of nature, or is it an escaped laboratory monster?” Without giving away too much let me just say, in one book the answer is “yes” and in the other the answer is even more unnerving. But one nice thing about fiction is that such questions can be examined carefully, and then answered clearly. No lingering doubts remain in the last pages of The Smallpox Incident or The Neah Virus. Don’t you wish life could imitate art in present circumstances?

Might I suggest you grab a copy on one or both of these now classic books, so you can read and reflect on the notion that nothing happening today is so terribly unheard of by scientists like me, who study viruses and vaccines? An added bonus is that my stories have relatively happy endings given the dire circumstances—and that’s the sort of outcome we all hope for in these trying times.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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