Omicron Could Signal the End of the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Some people, whether justified or not, have turned that glimmer into a blazing beacon, interpreting Omicron’s relatively mild effect on health if you’ve been vaccinated—a sore throat, some flu- or cold-like symptoms, or no noticeable symptoms at all—as a sign that SARS-CoV-2 may be nearing the end of its onslaught. SARS-CoV-2 must be weakening if Omicron isn’t as virulent, the thinking goes.

Even leading scientists have been swayed by the idea, admitting that of all the SARS-CoV-2 strains that have infected humans in the last two years, Omicron may be the best one to get infected with because it does not make the immunized sick.

And if more vaccinated people become infected with Omicron and develop immunity, that protection, combined with the immunity that some people may have developed from previous variants, could reach the magical herd immunity threshold—which experts say could be anywhere between 70% and 90% of people recovered from or vaccinated against COVID-19—that would finally cause SARS-CoV-2 to throw up its spike proteins in defeat.

According to some models, by the time Omicron has spread throughout the population, up to half of the world’s population will have been infected and, presumably, immune to the variant. With fewer unprotected hosts to infect, viruses generally begin to peter out—epidemic influenza viruses are a good example—and optimistic models suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may follow that path after a peak of cases by the end of January and beginning of February.

Under that assumption, COVID-19 would transition from a pandemic to an endemic disease, confined to pockets of outbreaks that erupt among immunocompromised populations or the unvaccinated, such as young children, but are manageable and containable because most people would be immune to the virus’s worst effects. 

However, there is a chance that the unpredictable nature of SARS-CoV-2 will drive the next year and beyond. If this occurs, it raises the ominous possibility that Omicron is not the beginning of the end, but rather the beginning of a more transmissible, more virulent virus that could cause even more harm than it already has.

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

Scenario 1: The COVID-19 virus has reached a state of equilibrium with humans. 

Let us begin with a more optimistic prediction for SARS-CoV-2 in 2022. 

Several lines of scientific evidence support this viewpoint, including some long-held truisms about how viruses behave as they seek new hosts to infect. 

Viruses mutate whenever they replicate themselves, becoming more or less infectious or harmful to their hosts. It’s all about finding the right mutations for a changing virus to become more efficient at spreading from one host to another in order to infect cells, while not causing so much disease that the host dies. It will not be able to replicate if the host is dying or dead.

Viruses, being the relatively simple entities that they are, have limited resources to devote to their one goal: survival, according to textbooks. A virus cannot even reproduce on its own and must rely on the reproductive machinery of the cells it infects. So it’s a huge advantage when a genetic mutation makes a virus more adept at spreading from one host to another, with each new host acting as a brand new virus-making factory. It also suggests that the virus prefers transmissibility over virulence; it is better for the virus to spread quickly and replicate than to kill its host.

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