The future of the COVID-19 pandemic

Grace Lee, News Editor

Even with the pandemic seemingly slowing down, more formidable threats seem to be approaching in the near distant future: potentially destructive COVID-19 variants.

Delta variant

The Delta variant was first detected in India at the end of 2020. This Variant of Concern (VOC) variant is extremely transmissible, which has consequently caused many more sub-variants that were coined the name, “delta-plus”. Based on studies in Canada and Scotland, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the Delta variant may be much more severe and harmful compared to the other variants. Healthline states there is a large range from 39 to 84 percent vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant. 


Mu variant

The Mu variant has been found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, the UK, France, Spain, and Florida. It is classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Variant of Interest (VOI). Though there is not much research yet on this variant, a study in Rome concluded that the Pfizer vaccine can indeed still neutralize the Mu variant, according to the BBC Science Focus Magazine. However, there have been indications of lower protection from the vaccine against this strain. According to News Medical Life Sciences, a study in Yokohama City concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech’s BNT162b2 vaccine has 76 percent vaccine effectiveness against the Mu variant.


Alpha variant

The Alpha variant was first tracked in the UK in 2020. It is currently being considered as a VOC, making it a carefully tracked and researched variant. . Fortunately, vaccines are still a strong shield against this variant, even with the much higher transmission rate than the original Wuhan virus. According to a study published in The Lancet Regional Health Europe, there is about 86 percent vaccine effectiveness with the Alpha variant. 


Beta and Gamma variants

The Beta variant was first found in South Africa in 2020. Similar to the Alpha variant, it has a high transmission rate and is labeled as a VOC, but it also has a higher resistance to neutralizing antibodies. A consequence of this resilience may be increased reinfection and breakthrough infections, which are infections in fully-vaccinated people, even after vaccination and immunization. The Lancet Regional Health Europe study concluded 77 percent vaccine effectiveness with the Beta variant. However, there have not been many recorded cases of the Beta variant in the US.

The Gamma variant was first identified in Japan in 2020 but was then traced back to Brazil, which is predominantly where it is spreading. The Gamma variant is similar to the Beta variant and its properties of being able to better resist the antibodies. 

As of now, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants are all categorized as VOCs, making them a much more immediate danger, while one of the most potent VOIs is the Mu variant, though there are a handful more. 

The CDC is continuing to strongly recommend the usage of masks and vaccination in order to combat the rising presence of more potentially dangerous variants.

There is a rising debate of what the pandemic might look like in the future. One possibility is that the world may continue to be plagued by endless, more fatal variants, while another is the belief that the pandemic will soon be over. Nevertheless, the future of the pandemic remains uncertain.

Interviewed by the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) Newspaper, Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, believes that the pandemic will end in approximately a year. With the Delta variant remaining extremely contagious, the number of immunization and vaccination of more people increasing, and booster shots starting to become utilized, some believe that coronavirus may end up becoming a similar scenario to the flu. 

“In this way, we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu. You can either get vaccinated and have a good winter, or you don’t do it and risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital, “ Bancel said.