What We Need To Know About The Future Of Variants

For the past year, variants of SARS-CoV-2 have upset our best-laid plans for recovery. As I write, the global spread of the Delta variant has darkened prospects for an early end to the pandemic. Delta outstaged the Alpha variant in recent months, overtaking it as the most prevalent strain in SARS-CoV-2 infections (Figure 1). Virologists disagree on the following question: is Delta as destructive as they come, or is an even more potent variant on the horizon?

Some argue that SARS-CoV-2 has a limited repertoire. Others, including me, believe that the virus has a capacity for change that exceeds anything we have seen to date. The optimists focus on recurring independent mutations in the Spike protein as evidence of a limited capacity for change. If that is true, a broadly protective vaccine may be just around the corner. Those less optimistic look to our failure to create a pan-protective influenza vaccine, one requiring annual re-vaccination to keep pace with influenza variants.

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© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.