The world has built a lot of immunity in the nine months since the launch of Omicron new corona virus She became controlling, which led to a record wave of injuries.
This immunity from previous vaccines and infections helps reduce hospitalizations and deaths, even when descendants of Omicron—a series of subvariants—become dominant one by one.
The virus is now trying to find a way to overcome our antibodies. A new subsidiary, BA.4.6, is beginning to outperform its predecessor, BA.5. Its advantages include a specific mutation in the spike protein, which is part of the virus that helps it attach to and infect our cells.
We’ve seen this R346T boom before. And each time it appears, it binds to forms of the pathogen SARS-CoV-2 that are better able to evade our antibodies. Invitation from highly qualified epidemiologists “Immune escape”.
If BA.4.6 becomes dominant, it could reflect the encouraging trend we’ve seen in most countries in recent weeks toward fewer infections, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths.
It is a reminder that the novel coronavirus is a living and evolving thing. When we adapt to it, it adapts to us. “Viruses often evolve to become more contagious and evade our immunity,” Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute of Health, told The Daily Beast.
Don’t panic yet. “One of the things I try not to do is get too excited about every new variant that is introduced,” Peter Hotez, a vaccine development specialist at Baylor College, told The Daily Beast.
Most variants and sub-variables of the coronavirus appear and disappear without much change in the general trend of the epidemic. In addition, there is A new type of vaccine In companies that can help us fight the worst forms of COVID in the long run. in the end.
However, BA.4.6 deserves a lot of attention. It is the seventh largest species of Omicron, which first appeared in Africa in November. It quickly spread, bypassing the previous major variant, Delta. Epidemiologists have described Omicron and its sub variants as the most infectious respiratory virus they have ever seen.
Omicron is four times more transmissible than Delta, but semi-lethal. So Omicron led to the worst day ever for the new COVID infections When A record 4.1 million people I got sick on January 19. That’s a fivefold increase from the Delta’s worst day in April of last year.
But only 13,000 people died on the worst day in Omicron death cases February 9 – Thousands died fewer than they did on the Delta’s deadliest day in January 2021.
It is not difficult to explain the widening gap between injuries and deaths as the epidemic approaches its fourth year. Billions of people have been at least partially vaccinated. Billions of people have been infected with the coronavirus and have survived. The combination of natural and vaccine-induced antibodies created a global immune wall that weakened the worst outcomes.
But with BA.4.6, the virus is trying to find a way around this wall. “There is tremendous selective pressure for immune escape, especially now that the vast majority of the population has some degree of immunity, immunization, infection, or both,” University of Washington virologist Keith Jerome told the Daily Beast.
SARS-CoV-2 is, in essence, fighting for its survival – experimenting with mutations until it finds mutations that can give it the upper hand.
R346T is one such mutation. It is not entirely clear how the virus brought about the change. It’s possible that Omicron mixed with an older type of SARS-CoV-2 in someone who got sick more than once. In other words, it is possible that BA.4.6 was a “recombinant” sub-variable that captured its most useful quality from one of its predecessors.
This change in the spike protein appears to make the virus more difficult to identify in our antibodies. With R346T, the virus is more likely to pass through our immune system and cause infection. Even if we are vaccinated. Although we have also detected and overcome COVID in the past.
Greater immune escape means more and worse infections. We were lucky with Omicron in the sense that although the variable and its dependent variables have generated successive waves of cases since November, hospital admissions and deaths have not increased proportionately.
It is still an open question to what extent BA.4.6 may be worse and to what extent it may spread. Health agencies around the world have been tracking the variable for several months. With BA.5 states stable, BA.4.6 outperforms BA.5 – but not everywhere.
BBA 4.6 hotspots include some Australian states and parts of the American Midwest. So far, BA.4.6 accounts for about four percent of new cases in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
BA.4.6 is programmed to rise with BA.5 into fall. It seems that BA.4.6 has only 10% growth advantage More than BA.5, but this advantage increases over time.
If there is good news in the rise of BA.4.6, it is with all the worrisome booms resident Omicron subspecies – and still has many mutations in common with BA.5, BA.4, BA.2 and BA.1.
This means that the Omicron boosters Pfizer and Moderna are developing for messenger RNA vaccines, which US regulators are about to approve in the coming weeks, should work at least to some extent against BA.4.6.
BA.4.6 is not the worst case scenario. This would be a secondary variant – or an entirely new variant – with strong immune escape. A form of SARS-CoV-2 has mutated so much that almost every antibody we’ve created in the past three years hardly recognizes it.
The epidemiological community is divided over the likelihood of this variant evolving. Some are confident that respiratory viruses such as influenza and the new coronavirus tend to become milder over time as they become “endemic” – this is always present, but is usually manageable.
Others fear that a near-complete immune escape is inevitable for the smartest viruses as they struggle so relentlessly to survive. “The idea that each subsequent variant causes less serious disease — I’m not buying it,” Hotez said.
“The virus has been a big hit so far.“
It’s all about genetics – the virus trades one quality for another as it strives to spread to more and more hosts. “The trick of the virus is to find a way to evade immunity while retaining the ability to efficiently infect new people,” Jerome explained.
The virus has been very successful so far in doing so, but the big question is whether it can continue to do so, or alternatively, will it exhaust all possible tricks to do so, creating a more manageable level of endemicity. There is no way to know for sure.”
A variant or variant with near-complete immune escape could drag us back to the scariest days of an early pandemic, when no one had immunity — or anyway. development immunity without surviving a very serious infection.
But BA.4.6 with the R346T mutation and the possibility of immune escape could be a preview of this worst-case scenario. It might also be an argument for the pharmaceutical industry and health agencies to redouble their efforts to create universal vaccines that work against SARS-CoV-2 and every other major coronavirus, dozens of which exist.
There are approximately a dozen major “pan-coronavirus” vaccines in development. The two main efforts are the Alliance for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations in Norway and the US government’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
They spend $200 million and $43 million respectively to develop their new global tracks. The trials are still months, if not years away. “We are gradually moving toward a more comprehensive coronavirus vaccine,” Hotez said.
Pan-coronavirus vaccines may be slightly less effective than the mRNA vaccines that were at their peak (against serious disease and death) at more than 90% at the end of 2020.
But it would be effective on a large scale, keeping people alive and out of the hospital, even if the virus mutated over and over to stay alive.
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