Scientists expect worse variants after Omicron
Omicron won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.
Scientists are warning that the wide and fast-spreading Omicron is an indicator that it will not be Covid19's last variant.
With every new infection comes a new chance for the virus to evolve and spread quicker.
Experts are unsure what the next variations will look like or how they will shape the pandemic, but they warn there is no assurance that omicron sequels would produce lesser sickness or that existing vaccinations will function against them.
Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, says the faster Omicron spreads, the "more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants."
Data has shown Omicron spreads twice as fast as the Delta variant and four times the speed of the original Covid infection. It also has more potential to reinfect those who had Covid-19 and cause "breakthrough infections" in the vaccinated population.
Experts still urge vaccination, as the World Health Organization recorded 15 million new cases during the week of January 3-9, a jump of 55% from the previous week.
Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, says the longer "persistent infections" may be the breeding ground for more variants, adding that there's no particular reason why a virus will evolve to mildness. "I don't think we can be confident that the virus will become less lethal over time."
Ray explains that a virus' ability to avoid immunity helps its long-term survival.
There are several potential paths for evolution. Animals may be able to incubate and release new variants. Pet dogs and cats, deer, and farm-raised mink are just a few of the animals that might be infected with the virus, which could evolve within them and spread to humans.
Another possibility is that if both omicron and delta are circulating, people could have multiple infections, which might result in what Ray refers to as "Frankenvariants"; hybrids having traits of both kinds.
To prevent the spread of variations, experts recommend that people continue to use public health measures like masking and getting vaccinated. Vaccinations still provide protection, and booster injections significantly reduce serious illness, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Furthermore, when vaccinated people are sick, Ray says their illness is frequently milder and clears up faster, giving harmful varieties less opportunity to spawn.
During a recent news conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that safeguarding people from future variants — even those that may be completely resistant to today's vaccines — is dependent on eliminating global vaccine disparity.
Tedros stated that he would want to have 70% of people in every nation immunized by the middle of the year. According to Johns Hopkins University data, there are now dozens of nations where less than a quarter of the population is completely vaccinated. In addition, many people in the US reject immunization.
Meanwhile, new varieties are unavoidable, according to Louis Mansky, head of the University of Minnesota's Institute for Molecular Virology.
"The virus is still kind of in control of what's going on," he added, citing the large number of unvaccinated persons.