Scientists warn that the rapid advancement of the “omicron” variant practically guarantees that this is not the latest version of the coronavirus that worries the world. Experts do not specify what the following options will look like or how they will be able to affect the pandemic. However, according to them, there is no guarantee that they will cause a milder disease or that existing vaccines will work against them. Experts are calling for more widespread vaccination while today’s vaccines are still working.
“The faster omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutations, which could lead to more new variants,” Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, told the Associated Press. Studies show that this variant is at least twice as contagious as the delta strain, and at least four times more contagious than the original version of the virus. Omicron is more likely than the delta variant to re-infect people who were previously sick with COVID-19, and causes “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people, as well as attacks the unvaccinated, experts say. The World Health Organization reported a record 15 million new cases of COVID-19 in the week from January 3 to January 9, which is 55 percent more than the previous week.
The ease with which the “omicron” variant spreads increases the likelihood that the virus will persist inside people with a weakened immune system, which gives it more time to develop powerful mutations. “The most likely breeding ground for new variants are longer-lasting, persistent infections,” said Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University.
The improved ability to evade immunity helps the coronavirus survive for a long time. There are many possible directions for the evolution of mutations. Domestic dogs and cats raised on a mink farm are just some of the animals vulnerable to the virus, which could potentially mutate inside them and return to humans. Another potential pathway: with the circulation of both “omicron” and “delta” variants, people can get a double infection, which can give rise to what Ray calls “Franken variants”, hybrids with characteristics of both types. According to scientists, omicron has many more mutations than previous variants, about 30 in a spike-like protein that allows it to attach to human cells. But the so-called IHU variant, identified in France and under the supervision of WHO, has 46 mutations, AR notes.
To deter the emergence of new options, scientists emphasize the need for continued public health measures, such as wearing masks and vaccination. According to experts, although the omicron variant is better able to evade immunity than delta, vaccines still provide protection against it, and repeated vaccinations significantly reduce serious diseases, hospitalizations and mortality.
Experts say the virus won’t become endemic like the flu while global vaccination rates are so low. During a recent press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that protecting people from future options, including those that may be completely resistant to today’s vaccinations, depends on addressing global inequalities in vaccines. According to Johns Hopkins University statistics, there are currently dozens of countries where only less than a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. “These huge unvaccinated groups in the USA, Africa, Asia, Latin America and other places are basically factories for the production of new variants,” concluded Dr. Prabhat Jha from the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto.