What to Expect After Omicron, Covid Vaccines, and Coronavirus Variants
As the covid-19 pandemic hit its third year, a vastly more contagious variant traveled out of South Africa and caused record-shattering levels of covid-19 infections upon entering the United States. Omicron, as the variant is known, tends to cause less severe illness but spreads so quickly that many pandemic-weary people are unwilling to fight its advancement. In many places, mitigation measures such as school closures and social distancing are no longer seen as viable methods of containing the virus. There seems to be a sense of collective resignation.
With the whole world desperate for an end to a pandemic that has dragged on for three years, experts and laypeople alike are wondering, what is next?
There is no way to foresee the future of the pandemic, but experts have been able to design models that help predict both what the virus might do next and how people will continue to respond. First is the question of what will ultimately happen with this wave of omicron infections. Suppose South Africa, the first country where omicron was detected, is any indication. In that case, cases will peak and then taper off, with this fourth wave of covid disappearing almost as quickly as it appeared. As of mid-January, omicron cases in some parts of the United States are beginning to reach a plateau, meaning they may have already peaked and could start declining very rapidly.
Nevertheless, the downward trend will not be uniform across the country, as hotspots such as New York City received the first waves of omicron. Other places did not see this variant begin spreading until later. Different regions across the country will see peaks and then declines in cases at various times over the next few weeks. In the meantime, hospitals will remain stretched, and the healthcare system will remain overburdened.
The Real Problem with Covid-19 Vaccines
Healthcare workers and public health officials have been concerned that low vaccination rates among Americans, with vaccine resistance, fueled heavily by conspiracy theories, will continue to cause problems, including more variants to cause new waves of infections. Country-wide, vaccinations have increased since omicron was first detected, and as of mid-January, nearly 80% of eligible Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. However, the number of fully protected Americans is far below those in countries that are being less severely impacted by omicron, including European countries and Canada.
While in many developing countries, the problem with vaccines is creating distribution networks to get the shots to people. In the United States, the biggest problem is a refusal to get a vaccine because of conspiracy theories. How the country moves forward in the pandemic will depend heavily on how many more people become willing to get vaccinated against covid-19.
Variants of Coronavirus Continue
There will undoubtedly be more variants. The two variants that have caused the most concern, delta, and omicron, are only a couple out of a stew of variants that never got the same foothold and were unable to spread as effectively. The sheer rapidity of omicron’s spread almost guarantees that there will be more mutations that create more variants, possibly “supervariants” that cause more severe illness and evade current vaccines. While some hope that the milder infection caused by omicron is a sign that the virus is becoming less lethal, many scientists believe that more dangerous variants could emerge.
“Frankenvariants” are the hypothetical merger of two variants to create a new version of the virus that combines the worst of both variants. There have been concerns about the so-called “deltacron,” which allegedly arose in the island country of Cyprus in mid-January. However, the World Health Organization believes there was an error involved in the genetic sequencing.
The rapid spread of omicron combined with still-high, albeit improving, levels of vaccine resistance in the United States almost guarantee that there will be more waves of covid-19 vis-à-vis emergent variants. How lethal those variants will be is up to the virus.