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It’s All Greek to US: Scientists Say to Expect ‘More Worrisome’ Variants After Omicron

It’s All Greek to US: Scientists Say to Expect ‘More Worrisome’ Variants After Omicron

On the bright side, we’re all going to learn more Greek letters.

Since it emerged in mid-November, the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus has raced across the globe like fire through dry grass. Research shows the variant is at least twice as contagious as the Delta variant and at least four times as contagious as the original version of the virus. Now scientists are issuing a warning that the whirlwind global spreading of the Omicron variant “practically ensures” it won’t be the last version of the coronavirus to worry the world.

Every infection provides a chance for the virus to mutate, and Omicron has an edge over its predecessors: it spreads way faster despite a growing percentage of the population getting vaccinated and gaining more immunity from other vaccines and prior illness. That means more people in whom the virus can further evolve. Experts don’t know what the next variants will look like or how they might shape the pandemic, but they say there’s no guarantee the post-Omicron variants will cause milder illness or if the existing vaccines will work against them. A variant could also achieve its main goal: replicating while mutating. If infected people developed mild symptoms initially, they then spread the virus by interacting with others, then got very sick later.

Getting progressively better at evading immunity helps a virus to survive over the long term. When SARS-CoV-2 first struck, no one was immune. But infections and vaccines have conferred at least some immunity to much of the world, so the virus must adapt. But Omicron is also more likely than the Delta variant to reinfect individuals who previously had COVID-19 and to cause “breakthrough infections” in vaccinated people while also attacking the unvaccinated. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a record 15 million new COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 3-9, a 55% increase from the previous week.

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One thing the experts can say for certain: wider vaccinations now are essential while today’s inoculations still work.

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