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Three More COVID-19 Variants—and That’s the Good News

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EIRNS—There are three COVID-19 variants on the radar screen, all presently categorized as cousins of Omicron. The good news is that the world at least has a fighting chance against three somewhat familiar viruses. The reality, though, is that man-made food shortages and massive nutritional deficiencies—to say nothing of outright starvation—are the most direct threat to humanity’s immune system. A serious compromising of humanity’s immune system is a pretty good guarantee that those COVID-19 coronaviruses will become too-close companions for millions, and will be mild compared to what concoctions are yet likely to manifest themselves, with names undreamed of.

In the U.S., average daily hospitalizations are up about 10% since last week, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Since February, the primary variant in the U.S. has been BA.2. It has spread around 30% faster than its cousin, BA.1 (aka Omicron). The culprit this time appears to be a spinoff of Omicron’s BA.2 sub-variant, tagged BA.2.12.1. It was first flagged by New York State health officials in April. BA.2.12.1, which is growing about 25% faster than its parent virus, BA.2 now accounts for nearly 37% of all COVID-19 cases across the U.S., according to new estimates from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And at the time of this report it is probably the majority virus in the U.S.

For the other two variants, we turn to South Africa, where, after weeks of decline in new cases, there has been a sharp rise over the past two weeks. Test positivity levels and hospitalizations have also risen, as scientists have watched two relatively new sub-variants, tagged BA.4 and BA.5, dominate transmission. Taken together, they accounted for almost 60% of all new COVID-19 cases by the end of April, according to South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases. BA.4 sequences have been reported in 15 countries and 10 U.S. states, while BA.5 has been picked up in 13 countries and 5 U.S. states.

A new preprint study of BA.4 and BA.5 reports that the variants can escape antibodies generated by previous infections caused by the first Omicron virus, BA.1. Laboratory studies indicate that people who have both been vaccinated and had “breakthrough” Omicron infections had three times less protection (that is, less ability of their antibodies to neutralize BA.4 and BA.5 viruses) ; and those who were unvaccinated but had recently recovered from an Omicron infection had more than sevenfold drop. The researchers concluded that “BA.4 and BA.5 have potential to result in a new infection wave,” making COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots crucial to stopping the next wave. “Our conclusions from this are, first, that [getting] Omicron by itself is not a great vaccine, right ?” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, who led the study. “Just because you were infected does not mean you have a lot of protection from what’s coming next.”

Dr. Eric Topol commented upon the study, that even people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection within the last 4-5 months can be reinfected by these new sub-variants : “That drop-off of immune escape or immune evasion was pronounced in people who were unvaccinated.” He added that only about 1 in 3 people in South Africa have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Before the SARS-CoV-2 virus, scientists thought coronaviruses didn’t change much. Andy Pekosz, a virologist and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University, said that, looking back, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. As long as the virus continues to find hosts to infect, it will continue to evolve. “This virus has shown that it mutated slowly, but when it started to pick up good mutations, they just kept coming and coming and coming.”

Maybe it is not the right time to have people starving around the world. [dms]