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Home / Science / Health /  Next COVID variant after Omicron: Experts explain how coronavirus can evolve, its traits, vaccination
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As we step into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, coronavirus has evolved with time, getting stronger with each new variant. In these last 2 years, we have witnessed the wrath of at least 5 such variants. And suggesting that there will be more variants in the future, experts explain the virus can evolve at least in four ways in the future. Read on to understand what studies have revealed.   

Coronavirus and its variants

In the last 2 years, we have seen five variants of concerns - Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron. While the first four VOCs were detected in 2020 from different parts of the world, Omicron was found in South Africa in November 2021.

World Health Organisation (WHO) has explicitly said that Omicron won't be the last variant. 

The Next Variant - 4 possible scenarios

A recent article by Nature pointed out four possible scenarios of how the virus can evolve in the future. 

Scenarios 1: The most hopeful — but probably least likely — future for SARS-CoV-2 would be to follow the path of measles. Infection or vaccination provides lifetime protection, and the virus circulates largely on the basis of new births.

Scenarios 2: A more likely, but still relatively hopeful, would be SARS-CoV-2 following the path of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Most people get infected in their first two years of life. RSV is a leading cause of hospitalization of infants, but most childhood cases are mild. 

Scenarios 3: The third would be coronavirus acting like influenza A virus, which drives global seasonal influenza epidemics each year. Due to rapid evolution, new variants are able to escape the immunity elicited by past strains. The result is seasonal epidemics, propelled largely by spread in adults, who can still develop severe symptoms. Flu jabs reduce disease severity.

Scenarios 4: But if SARS-CoV-2 evolves to evade immunity more sluggishly, it might come to resemble influenza B. That virus’s slower rate of change, compared with influenza A, means that its transmission is driven largely by infections in children, who have less immunity than adults.

What WHO has said about the next variant?

Last week, a WHO official pointed out the next variant of concern will be more fit, i.e. it will be more transmissible because it will have to overtake what is currently circulating. However, “The big question is whether or not future variants will be more or less severe." There is no guarantee that the next variant would be milder than the previous variant, though theories are brewing around it.

The next iteration of Covid may also evade vaccine protections even more, making the existing vaccines even less effective, the official added.

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