We have seen evolution happen as coronavirus variants emerge one after another, causing more waves of infection around the world. There are all reasons to believe this will continue until 2022, and there is no guarantee that future variants will be less at risk.
With the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, survival means infecting as many people as possible. Variants that are better at spreading are better than other variants. An important part of this is the transmission rate. On average, all infected people infected a few other people when the original virus began to spread. Delta infects 6 or 7. Omicron seems to be even more contagious.
It is not yet fully understood how the virus makes it more infectious. But in the case of Delta, it may be because it excels at replicating itself. That is, infected people shed more virus.
However, infecting people is no longer as easy as it used to be. Today, most people around the world have some degree of immunity due to past infections and vaccinations. Therefore, mutants such as Omicron are usually evolving to evade this immunity through changes in the outer peplomer, which is the primary target of the antibody.
There is a limit to how infectious a virus can be, but it may not be able to evade an immune response. As with the human influenza virus, you may see the continued emergence of new variants that avoid sufficient immunity to cause a wave after a wave of infection.
“Currently, most people in the world have some immunity from past infections and vaccinations.”
Over time, different viral strains can survive and diverge, rather than a contiguous subspecies sweeping away everything else and becoming dominant. This requires a combination of different vaccines in a single dose, as is the case with the flu vaccine.
It is often said that new viruses evolve and cause mild symptoms. However, SARS-CoV-2 is the most infectious just before the onset of symptoms, so there is little selection pressure to do this. Smallpox is extremely deadly and can worsen over time. Influenza still imposes high annual deaths.
Another concern is that the virus can circulate in some other animals and produce new variants that may return to people.
Future variants can cause more serious illnesses in people without immunity, but most people in the world now have some degree of immunity. This may continue to provide some protection against severe illness, even if the infection cannot be prevented.
However, this immunity is expected to decline over time. Even if you already have a booster shot, you’ll find that you’re lined up to get one or two more jabs in 2022 to protect you from Rho, Sigma, Upsilon, and even Omega.
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2022 News Preview: What will the coronavirus do next?
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