Scientists work to understand and predict what the virus will do next. Will this pandemic ever end? How will the virus continue to mutate? In this article scientists talk about different scenarios and possibilities.
The COVID-19 omicron variant could possibly morph into the ideal virus that is highly transmissible, but tamed by vaccines. However, scientists say we are still working to understand the virus and we are still not able to predict how it will mutate in the future. A virus only has one goal: to make more of itself and spread. There is no advantage to the virus to create long-term side effects such as long COVID.
Because people are adaption to the virus to stop the spread by vaccines, masks and social distancing, soon nearly all of us will have protective antibodies either from the vaccines or from getting the infection. To counteract this, the virus will most likely try different countermeasures.
Omicron became the dominant variant (over delta) because it spreads so quickly. While delta settled in the lungs, omicron settles mostly in the upper airways where it can multiply quickly in the area where we talk and breathe, spreading it faster to others around us. Also, the incubation period of omicron is only three days, while delta’s was 4.3 days (or 5 days for other variants). Omicron is also more likely to be asymptomatic.
So what will the next variant be like? Once omicron runs out of people to infect will a new variant swoop in?
Experts say the new scenario could be either worse or better and that there are several troublesome possibilities. The virus could adapt to become more stealthy like tuberculosis. Or it could become even more transmissible like measles. There is always the worry that it could become more deadly as well.
Whatever happens with the next virus mutation(s), it will face a smart human immune system that is also adaptable, and better trained to defend itself. And there are parts of the immune response, such as virus-killing T cells, that would target all variants, said Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the New Mexico Consortium, who tracks the evolution of the COVID-19 virus.
Dr. Patrick Ayscue, an applied epidemiologist at San Francisco’s Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, sas that as we live with the virus, “we’re building our repertoire against a breadth of variants. So we’re making it harder for the virus to find ways to evade,” While the virus can adapt, “it‘ll probably be less and less effective at doing so,” so infected people will have milder cases.
Dr. Korber predicts that the virus might slowly turn into a common cold-causing virus, where “Fewer of us will get really sick, and fewer will die, as many of us now have some immunity and our bodies are armed to fight back.”
“But it is very hard to define what ‘slow’ means, and to predict its evolutionary trajectory, even over the next year or so,” she said. “It may be a bumpy ride.”
See the entire article by Lisa M. Krieger at, Living with COVID-19: How the virus could turn into the common cold, or something far worse.
Top photo of health care workers tending to a COVID-19 patient by ARIANA DREHSLER/AFP via Getty Image