JAN 30, 2022 7:38 AM PST

What Happens After Omicron? Scientists' Predictions

WRITTEN BY: Alexandria Bass

Now that Omicron is running through the globe and increasing exposure to SARS-CoV-2 more than any previous variant, scientists are optimistic that there may be a much-welcomed extended period of quiet after this wave ends.

According to data, a country's vaccination rate alone doesn't clearly correlate with its COVID death rate. For instance, as would be expected, in countries like Denmark with a high fully-vaccinated rate of 80.9%, death rates are low at 632 COVID deaths per million people. But in countries like the US where 63.8% of the population are fully vaccinated, the death rate is much higher at 2,651 COVID deaths per million people compared to South Africa with a death rate of 1,573 deaths per million where just a meager 27.8% of the population are fully vaccinated.

Since Omicron is so skilled at evading human immunity to infect a larger portion of the planet, more people will now have immunity that hopefully offers a reprieve from the looming threat of getting and potentially dying from COVID in the near future, at least until next winter.

As Hans Kluge, the director of the European Region of the WHO has stated, “We anticipate that there will be a period of quiet before COVID-19 may come back towards the end of the year, but not necessarily the pandemic coming back.” The UK is now dropping restrictions of mandatory COVID vaccine passes and masking in indoor public settings.

Even UK COVID policy critics who advocated for stricter government policies, like the University of Edinburgh's Devi Sridhar, are joining in on the optimism: “We have reached a bit of a turning point. Not only has the Omicron wave crested in several countries, but its toll has been smaller than feared. And the wave of infections has likely boosted immunity at the population level, which means future waves may wreak even less havoc."

But, scientists warn, there may be some bumps in the road along the way to COVID slowing down and becoming endemic.

Already with Omicron, a new lineage has appeared – BA.2. It's more transmissible than the original BA.1 Omicron lineage and may slow down the decline in COVID cases in countries where it's already peaked. 

Scientists also don't know how long immunity from Omicron will last or how much more severe symptoms could be from future mutated strains.

Boghuma Titanji, a virologist at Emory University School of Medicine, states, “I think the virus still has a lot of tricks up its proverbial sleeve and we need to approach the future of the pandemic with more humility."

Fortunately, though, data do suggest that the human immune response is becoming better and broader with each exposure to SARS-CoV-2's spike protein.

Sources: Science, Our World in Data

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Alexandria (Alex) is a freelance science writer with a passion for educating the public on health issues. Her other professional experience includes working as a speech-language pathologist in health care, a research assistant in a food science laboratory, and an English teaching assistant in Spain. In her spare time, Alex enjoys cycling, lap swimming, jogging, and reading.
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