Delta – Omicron battle determines the future of the pandemic

Scientists question whether Omicron – the latest competitor can push back Delta and become the dominant strain? This will shape the future of pandemics.

After studying data from South Africa and the UK, some scientists think Omicron could win. Dr Jacob Lemieux, a member of a study led by Harvard Medical, said: “It’s still early days, but a growing body of data suggests that Omicron is likely to outperform Delta in many, if not more, ways than Delta. I mean all points.

However, others say it’s too early to tell if Omicron’s spread will overwhelm Delta.

Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, US, said: “Particularly in the US, where the number of Delta infections is increasing dramatically, will Omicron be enough to replace it? , the answer will be in about two weeks.”

About the problem infection, scientists pointed out at South Africa, where Omicron was first discovered, the strain now spreads rapidly in the community and becomes almost dominant in a short time. Experts fear the country is entering a new wave that could overwhelm hospitals.

Omicron quickly brought South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day since mid-November to more than 16,000 per day last weekend. According to experts, the mutation accounts for more than 90% of new cases in the Gauteng epidemic center, quickly spreading and becoming the dominant strain in eight other South African provinces.

“The virus spreads extremely quickly,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the African Institute of Health Research. “Looking at the epidemiological graph in the new wave, the number of infections in South Africa has increased vertically. This shows that the virus is very contagious, as expected.”

But Dr Hanekom said the number of Delta infections in South Africa was low before Omicron appeared. He thinks it is too early to say that Omicron is the dominant strain in the country. It is not clear to the scientists whether the mutation tends to circulate similarly in other regions.

If it can’t pass Delta, Omicron will end up like the previous versions of the virus, Beta and Alpha. These two strains are waning in places where it once dominated such as Britain, South Africa and Qatar.

The data shows that the prevalence of Beta has dropped throughout 2021 due to Delta being more transmissible and knowing to evade some immunity from the vaccine. Scientists in early March reported a record high number of Beta mutant infections. It accounted for 2% of the world’s sequenced virus samples at the time. By July, it existed in only 0.4% of positive cases reported on the global data portal.

In Brother – the leading country in viral gene sequencing, the Omicron strain is increasing exponentially compared to Delta, according to Dr. Lemieux. In America and the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

“Overall, when we put together the initial data, we came to a consistent picture: Omicron was circulating in many places. Based on what we observed in South Africa, it is likely to become one of the most common sites in the world. become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and cause the number of infections to increase,” he said.

People in Johannesburg, South Africa receive a Covid-19 vaccine, December 2021. Photo: NY Times

Positive scenario when Omicron becomes dominant strain?

Many scientists believe that, if there is a super-infectious advantage but causes mild symptoms, Omicron can become the dominant strain. The pandemic has since turned in a positive direction.

When two strains are circulating, the faster-spreading one tends to dominate, according to Dr. Samuel Scarpino, of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Institute for Pandemic Prevention. That variant predominates because it replicates rapidly in the host, or because of its ability to evade immunity.

This sounds scary. When the whole world took a year to accelerate the deployment of the vaccine, the community did not want to be infected with a breakthrough nCoV (a person who got Covid-19 after being vaccinated). If the mutation doesn’t cause severe symptoms, doesn’t cause people to be hospitalized or need a ventilator, that’s good news, according to Elizabeth Halloran, a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

“The virus has surpassed the vaccine, but only mild symptoms mean we are on the right track,” she said.

Scientists are not sure what the new data means for public health. South African doctors have reported much higher rates of re-infection with Omicrons, suggesting the strain is likely to have escaped some immunity. The new strain appears to be spreading among young people, mostly unvaccinated people, and most hospitalizations are relatively mild.

“We’d love to get more pathologic findings from older people or people with underlying medical conditions, to see how they’re progressing,” Binnicker said.

While waiting for answers, scientists suggest people do everything possible to protect themselves. “We want to make sure as many people get immunity from vaccination as possible,” said Dr. Lemieux.

Thuc Linh (Follow AP, LA Times, Independent)


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