The future path of the Covid pandemic is obviously relevant to METAR.
We Study Virus Evolution. Here’s Where We Think the Coronavirus Is Going.
March 28, 2022
By Sarah Cobey, Jesse Bloom and Tyler Starr and Nathaniel Lash
Dr. Cobey studies the interaction of immunity, virus evolution and transmission at the University of Chicago. Dr. Bloom and Dr. Starr study virus evolution at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Mr. Lash is a graphics editor for Opinion.
As scientists who study how viruses evolve, we are often asked about the future of the coronavirus. Will it go away? Get worse? Fade into the background of our lives? Become seasonal like the flu?
Here’s what we know: The virus’s Omicron variant was significantly more infectious and more resistant to vaccines than the original strain that first emerged in Wuhan, China. There’s no reason, at least biologically, that the virus won’t continue to evolve. The coronavirus variants that have emerged thus far sample only a fraction of the genetic space that is most likely available for evolutionary exploration.
Interesting article with a multi-media element that graphically emphasizes just how much more the Omicron virus could mutate while still attaching to human cells. There are 9 mutations of the spike protein now, and they say scientists have already documented another 401 mutations of that section of the virus, and they calculate an additional 2000 mutations are possible, all while still attaching to human cells.
we expect SARS-CoV-2 will continue to cause new epidemics, but they will increasingly be driven by the ability to skirt around the immune system. In this sense, the future may look something like the seasonal flu, where new variants cause waves of cases each year. If this happens, which we expect it will, vaccines may need to be updated regularly similar to the flu vaccines unless we develop broader variant-proof vaccines.
And of course, how much all this matters for public health depends on how sick the virus makes us. That is the hardest prediction to make, because evolution selects for viruses that spread well, and whether that makes disease severity go up or down is mostly a matter of luck.
These experts’ opinions reinforce my thoughts on the subject. We shouldn’t expect the pandemic to just fade away. Good news for my investment in MRNA. Hopefully we can manage future iterations of the virus with an evolving annual vaccine booster. Moderna is working on several based on different variants and combinations thereof.