The world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 which continues to claim lives. Many vaccines were rolled out earlier this year to beat the deadly virus. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths dropped as the vaccination drives across the globe gathered steam. However, the Delta variant, and other mutations of the original COVID-19 virus, are now causing a surge in cases in the past weeks.
Edward Holmes, an expert on viral evolution at the University of Sydney, said that he was proven wrong on most of his predictions regarding the coronavirus more than a year after the pandemic.
One of his predictions, however, regarding SARS-CoV-2 evolving to avoid human antibodies became true. It has also become a bit more virulent and a lot more infectious, causing more people to fall sick over time. All this had an enormous influence on the course of the pandemic.
At present, the Delta variant, the reason behind most COVID-19 cases worldwide, is quite different from the original virus. Because of its difference, health officials are coming up with different pandemic plans. Some governments are trying to speed up the vaccination process, while others have reintroduced mask mandates.
Although the highly contagious Delta variant has been causing a lot of alarm and concern, Aris Katzourakis, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford, believes that the worst of the SARS-CoV-2’s evolution is “yet to come.”
He said that there’s now enough immunity in humans to ratchet up an evolutionary competition, pressuring the virus to adapt further, Science magazine reported. According to the expert, much of the world is still grappling with coronavirus cases, giving the virus plenty of chances to replicate and throw up new mutations.
Andrew Read, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, said that predicting the possible other mutations of SARS-CoV-2 is impossible.
“It’s very, very tricky to know what’s possible, until it happens. It’s not physics. It doesn’t happen on a billiard table,” he said. Read did say, however, that with how the viruses evolved in the past, they believe that SARS-CoV-2 will be more infectious than how it is now with the Delta variant.
Müge Çevik, an infectious disease specialist at the University of St. Andrews, still believes that immunity will reduce the likelihood of people getting infected in the coming months. He said: “That means there will be fewer mutations emerging if we vaccinate more people.”
Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, also said it might be more difficult for SARS-CoV-2 to mutate into a much infectious variant. He pointed out that there are fundamental limits to how good a virus can get as to transmitting. Eventually, SARS-CoV-2 will hit that plateau. The only question now is when the plateau will be reached.