Millions of people around the world are hoping that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Even though it is quite possible to be fully vaccinated and boosted and still get COVID-19, infections among the fully vaccinated are mostly milder infections. But journalist David Axe, in an article published by the Daily Beast on May 6, warns that new COVID-19 variants and subvariants are emerging rapidly — and they’re highly infectious.
“You might not know it by looking around you at all those unmasked faces, but there’s still an awful lot of novel coronavirus out there,” Ax observes. “And the virus appears to be mutating faster than ever, producing steadily more contagious variants and subvariants. The evolutionary trend with SARS-CoV-2 might not mean there are definitely going to be big surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, at least not everywhere or for very long. But it underscores an uncomfortable truth: that despite the lifting of COVID restrictions in most countries that aren’t China — despite many people’s eagerness to move past the pain and uncertainty of the past two years — the pandemic isn’t over. The virus isn’t done mutating.”
How dangerous future mutations of COVID-19 will be remains to be seen.
“The latest subvariants are the most transmissible yet,” Ax observes. “BA.4 and BA.5, both offspring of the Omicron variant, first appeared in South Africa last month. BA.2.12 and the closely related BA.2.12.1 first showed up in New York around the same time. BA.4 and BA.5 are 10% more contagious than their immediate predecessor, the BA.2 form of Omicron. BA.2.12 and BA.2.12.1 are 25% more contagious. Equally alarmingly, BA.4, BA.5, BA.2.12 and B.2.12.1 are quickly becoming dominant in their respective regions of origin just a couple months after BA.2 became dominant.”
Axe, however, notes that although “major new subvariants seem to be coming at us faster and faster,” COVID-19’s “genetic victories could be fleeting.”
Comparing COVID-19’s Delta and Omicron variants, Ax points out that while Omicron has been more infectious than Delta, it hasn’t been as deadly.
“Cases went way up as Omicron became dominant, but deaths didn’t,” Ax explains. “On the deadliest day of the Omicron surge on February 9, (2022), 13,000 people died globally — 5000 fewer than died on the worst day of Delta on January 20, 2021.”
Ax offers both good news and bad news where COVID-19 is concerned.
The journalist writes, “A growing gap between infections and deaths might actually be the best-case scenario, absent the novel coronavirus miraculously ‘self-extincting’ by running itself into a genetic corner…. The bad news is, we probably need to learn to cope with ever more contagious SARS-CoV-2 variants and subvariants showing up faster and faster. The good news is that we know how to cope.”
Since it emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019, COVID-19 has killed more than 6.2 million people worldwide — including over 996,000 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Those numbers would be even higher were it not for COVID-19 vaccines.
“Expect to hear a lot about new lineages and sublineages in the coming months as they appear and become dominant at an accelerating rate,” Ax writes. “Don’t be surprised if you catch one of them, even if you’re vaccinated and boosted and maybe even have antibodies from past infection. But don’t panic. Keep up with your vaccinations, and you’ll probably be OK. Unless, of course, SARS-CoV-2’s evolution takes a dangerous turn.”
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