10, 9, 8, 7…Countdown to COVID’s Demise

So far, Omicron is proving to be a more transmissible but slightly less virulent (powerful) variant of COVID-19, says Angelo DeLucia, Ph.D., professor of molecular virology and cancer biology.

In South Africa, where the Omicron variant originated, early medical reports have not shown an increase in use of oxygen or hospitalization, notes Dr. DeLucia. That’s good news, relatively speaking, since it supports the idea of a less potent variant.

What do scientists like Dr. DeLucia think will be next in the COVID-19 saga?

Evolutionary virologists (who study the evolution of viruses) believe that COVID-19 may go in one of two directions, says Dr. DeLucia:

  1. It may become endemic, that is, so common that it becomes part of our environment, like the common cold—annoying, but not dangerous enough to kill you.
  2. It may develop into something like influenza virus, becoming especially dangerous to older people. “You hear a lot about pneumonia killing older people, and pneumonia often starts with the flu,” notes Dr. DeLucia.

The power of vaccination

When we’re vaccinated against a virus, neutralizing antibodies and immune cells called T-cells are made. The T-cells hang around in the body afterward to identify any host cells that are infected by the virus and – to the rescue! – kill those cells. “We think that the lower deaths right now are mainly due to the T-cell interventions, from vaccinations,” says Dr. DeLucia.

If Omicron were able to evade the neutralizing antibodies and get past the T-cells to infect host cells, we could see more hospitalizations and deaths, he notes.

Looking to the future

Making predictions can be a murky, fraught business, but one thing is clear around COVID-19, says Dr. DeLucia: The future holds more COVID-19 variants.

And he has one hope for when that happens: “As new variants arrive, we should face them with a communal effort. We should be united, not divided, in how we face them.

Share this post