The coronavirus, like any other virus, has been evolving and adapting to its environment since it first emerged in 2019. The more it mutates, the more variants and strains circulate—some of which have had, and are having, catastrophic effects on society like the Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and now the Omicron variant.
The last COVID variant?
Given that the Omicron variant has been presenting less severe side effects than that of its predecessors, many have been wondering if this will in fact be the last COVID variant. The reality, however, is that that’s probably not going to be the case.
Most recently, Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer, Sir Michael McBride said that there will be many more strains that will arise after the Omicron variant. He told PA News Agency:
This is not the last variant that we have seen, there will be variants after Omicron, we have still, unfortunately, more letters in the Greek alphabet which we will use as those become detected…
However, he also had some good news to share. He mentioned that the current vaccines were effective in protecting against new and emerging variants of concern. Furthermore, he believes that the only way to ‘tip the balance’ in favour of our immune system is by getting the booster jab.
Are we really nearing an endemic state?
In the UK, around 35 million people have received their third dose but the global rate of vaccination isnowhere near what we need to treat COVID as endemic. However, several authorities have gone so far as to say that the ‘mild’ variant is a sign that the pandemic is coming to an end.
On 10 January, Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez said that the government was going to adapt their approach to the pandemic as it is now 'heading towards an endemic state'. He said on Cadena Ser radio, as quoted by Financial Times:
We are heading towards an endemic illness rather than the pandemic it’s been up to now.
We have to respond to this situation with new tools that are linked more closely to vaccination, to protection through masks, to institutional co-operation, the contribution of science and international solidarity.
The World Health Organisation was quick to react to his comment, and said that it was too soon to consider this a reality. Catherine Smallwood, senior emergencies officer at WHO Europe said:
We really need to hold back on behaving as if it is endemic before the virus itself is behaving as if it is endemic.