Now that new cases of the pandemic are declining, the question is: what will happen after Omicron? The infection specialists do not have the answer. Some say that with more people vaccinated and people getting less severe symptoms the pandemic may come to an end. But others point out that there are still pockets in the world where the vaccination rate is very low. This enables the Omicron variant to further mutate and create possibly more vicious strains of the virus that may not be covered by vaccinations. Here is a summary article that appeared in CNN.
What we learnt about Omicron and the pandemic
The following points are worth noting.
- The next wave of infection may be more severe or may be vaccine resistant
- Waning immunity and uneven global coverage with vaccinations heighten the risk for new variants that challenges the health care systems
- Many countries have lifted restrictions against SARS-CoV-2. This may increase the spread of new variants and also cause more mutations
- Omicron comes in several sub lineages like B.1, 1.1 and BA.2 (the ‘stealth variant’). It is highly likely that more sub lineages of Omicron will form as the WHO stated.
- In countries like Denmark and Nepal the BA.2 sub lineage of Omicron is outcompeting the BA.1 sub lineage.
- Vaccine inequity is the biggest problem right now. In some countries 95% of all people had vaccinations, in others only 15 to 20%. This leads to more mutations.
- Booster vaccines keep death and hospitalization rates down
Newer vaccines have to be developed
Dr. Semih Tareen, Ph.D., is a virologist and senior director of gene therapy at Sana Biotechnology, Seattle. He said that the biggest challenge right now is vaccine inequity. He said: “We are lucky that there are vaccines and that there are parts of the world where vaccination campaigns and willingness to be vaccinated have resulted in high vaccination rates with boosters. But we do not live in a world of closed borders”. The problem are the pockets where there are low vaccination rates. It is here where Covid-19 experiences propagation. The virus circulates in those who have weaning immunity or did not have anti-Covid-19 vaccinations. But all along mutations occur. Dr. Tareen went on to say: “It is theoretically possible that a more virulent strain may come along, but with the ongoing increase of immunity, both from vaccinations and infections, the chances of a more virulent strain wreaking havoc is decreasing”.
New vaccine at the horizon
All of the vaccines at the present time target the ever-mutating spike protein. However, the immunity against Covid-19 lasts only 5 to 6 months because of newer variants that develop. Newer research showed that a universal coronavirus vaccine is directed at the whole virus. It gives lasting immunity against all variants of the coronavirus. Until this newer vaccine is generally available it is crucial to keep your present immune response up-to-date with regular vaccinations and boosters. People who had boosters have protection against all of the existing variants of Covid-19. In contrast, persons who only had the basic vaccines do not necessarily have protection.
Many people wonder what will happen after Omicron. Nobody knows for sure. But virologists stress that as many people as possible should receive vaccines against the virus. This includes booster shots, which stimulate the immune system even more. When the majority of a population receive vaccines it is difficult for the virus to be transmit to other humans and create new variants. The vaccine manufacturers need to move away from producing vaccines against the ever-mutating spike protein. Instead, the vaccine manufacturers will introduce a universal coronavirus vaccine that kills the whole virus. This should give longer lasting immune responses that covers us against new more virulent strains. In the meantime it remains important to follow basic hygiene rules: wash your hands frequently, use disinfectant, and there is nothing wrong, if you want to wear a mask in crowded places.