Scientists fear we are unprepared for a dangerous new variant of COVID

A wave of COVID infections caused by the BA.5 subvariant has increased. Globally, new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are decreasing every day.

But the SARS-CoV-2 virus is almost certainly here to stay. Another wave is inevitable as new variants and sub-variants mutate, compete for supremacy and find new transitions.

How fast this wave comes and how bad it gets will probably lead to genetic competition between different mutations of the novel coronavirus. With luck, a milder form of the virus will prevail and buy us time to prepare bad A type of virus, sooner or later, is almost certain to come.

As for us unhappyworse comes sooner.

The scientific community does not believe in anything. “We’ve learned from this pandemic to expect the unexpected,” Cindy Prince, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told The Daily Beast.

When epidemiologists started looking for the next version of COVID, the BA.5 branch of the main Omicron variant was still dominant. after BA.5. They identified two main possibilities.

The best possible possibility is that it is another type of Omicron, a variant of our immune systems that knows and knows how to fight. The worst is a new variant that can escape our antibodies. Option of Pi, Rho or Sigma if desired.

Or it could be the result. The only thing experts don’t expect is that COVID will just… disappear. “The virus has always found a way to survive,” John Swartzberg, professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health, told The Daily Beast. “I don’t see anything that suggests it won’t continue.”

BA.5 is the third major subvariant of Omicron, itself the third major variant of the virus after Alpha and Delta. The BA.1, the base Omicron, replaced the Delta forms late last year and dominated.

BA.1 was not as lethal as Delta, due to widespread immunity from vaccines and previous infections. Worst day for BA.1 deaths, February 13,000. 9, less than 18,000 fatalities in January, the worst day in the Delta. 20.

But there was BA.1 a road More infectious than Delta. Some epidemiologists have described it as the most contagious respiratory virus ever seen. BA.1 caused a record wave of infections worldwide in January, reaching nearly 4.1 million new cases. 19.

But if we take Pi, Rho, or Sigma, brace yourself for possible disaster.

The BA.1 wave resulted in two small increases in cases as the new Omicron subvariants took over. BA.1 cases were reduced in February; BA.2 drove them back in March. BA.2 infection subsided in May. BA.5 drove them back in June.

BA.5 peaked on July 20 with 1.6 million new cases and 4,500 deaths on July 27. Infections and deaths are now falling everywhere except Japan.

The relative decline of COVID, by our pre-pandemic standards, belies the still-widespread suffering. “Over the past few years, we could be facing a situation with more than 120,000 known new infections per day, more than 43,000 hospitalizations per day, 5,000 in the ICU and 450 deaths. [in the U.S.] and we think, ‘It’s not that bad, we’ve seen worse,'” Anthony Alberg, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina, told The Daily Beast.

And the delay is temporary. If the past 32 months are any guide, the next wave of COVID will build this winter. The only variable is the shape of the virus. Is the fourth major Omicron subvariant the next dominant form of SARS-CoV-2? Or a completely new option?

The distinction is very important. All Omicron sublines share certain key mutations, particularly around the virion protein, the part of the pathogen that helps it enter and infect our cells.

Billions of people now have antibodies that recognize these mutations, either from one of the safe and highly effective vaccines or from a past infection. In these past two years, a steady increase in immunity has kept the death rate down even as infection rates have risen. Many people have caught COVID since last winter, some for the second or third time. Most were mild cases.

This is the trend if another breed of Omicron will dominate the next few months need to continues. There will be maybe Occurs in cases lasting a week. but deaths it’s possible increase only slightly.

Our antibodies are ready, said Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida’s Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research, who has built sophisticated computer models to simulate the COVID pandemic.

“Naturally acquired immunity is long-lived, estimated at 2.5 years in our models, and new infections often occur in those who have lost vaccine-induced immunity, which decays more quickly,” Michael told The Daily Beast. “This causes phenomena to rise and fall by a constant but small amount, with fluctuations or oscillations that gradually become smaller over time until they reach an apparently endemic steady state.”

But if we take Pi, Rho, or Sigma, brace yourself for possible disaster.

New variants of the virus dominate through radical mutations, significantly change the behavior of the pathogen and become much more defeated than its predecessors. With each new variant, it changes so much that our antibodies no longer recognize it. According to Alberg, “The large genetic change greatly increases its ability to transmit to people in the immunized state and past infections.”

Epidemiologists call this “immune escape.” This is a scary scenario when it comes to viruses.

Michael modeled the rise of the primary immune escape variant. How bad it gets depends on whether the new variant rejects vaccine-derived antibodies, natural antibodies from a previous infection, or both. “If immune evasion is the same for both types of immunity, then you get significant repetitive waves depending on the exact speed and strength of the evasion,” Michael said.

There is reason to believe that another Omicron subline may be next. Geneticists scrutinizing viral samples have identified four forms of Omicron that have been fighting for dominance in recent weeks. BA.5, of course. But also BA.5.2, BA.2.75 and BA.4.6.

BA.5.2 is a slightly mutated form of BA.5 and doesn’t have enough advantages to outperform its predecessor, Christian Andersen, director of infectious disease genomics at the Scripps Institute for Translational Research in California, told The Daily Beast. “So I think we’ll see whether BA.2.75 or something completely different prevails.”

This “something completely different” has yet to be detected in viral surveillance, so BA.2.75 may be the start.

If there is a wild card, it may be BA.4.6, a subvariant of BA.4, a close relative of BA.5. “We don’t know much about .4.6 structurally,” Swartzberg said. Although BA.4.6 is a different Omicron subvariant, it may be mutated for significant immune evasion. “We want a new subvariant of Omicron that is successful in evading immunity [that] this could be a serious problem for us.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Swartzberg joked.

Still, as long as Omicron and its progeny dominate, the next wave of COVID-19 may be minor. It takes time for us to prepare for the wave after that, and over time the likelihood of some immune counter-variant developing increases.

Despite the new strain of COVID sweeping the planet, no one expects another major lockdown. Instead, our best weapon against Pi, Rho, or Sigma may be new formulations of messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.

mRNA is inherently flexible. It’s a plug-and-play delivery system for tiny fragments of genetic material that trigger a specific immune response. If you change the genetic material, you change the vaccine and the antibodies it induces.

Current mRNA vaccines are designed for the Alpha variant, but they still work really well against Delta and Omicron. Anticipating the arrival of an immune evasion variant, both Pfizer and Moderna are working on new “multivalent” vaccine formulations effective against a wide range of SARS-CoV-2 variants.

But these new formulas are not ready. Massachusetts-based Moderna and New York-based Pfizer have both conducted large-scale trials of multivalent vaccines, but the US Food and Drug Administration is still reviewing the data.

Whether and when the FDA approves new combinations of vaccines may depend on when and if the immune evasion option emerges so that health agencies in many other countries do the same. According to Swartzberg, the new devices could receive FDA approval within a month.

Of course, regulators want to explore new formulations without allowing a spike in infections and deaths. And if the next wave is a BA.2.75 wave, they can get this instead of something worse.

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