Immune-evading omicron variants are popping up all over the world


HR King
May 29, 2001
For two years, coronavirus variants emerged, one by one, sweeping the globe.
But this fall and winter are expected to be different: Instead of a single ominous variant lurking on the horizon, experts are nervously eyeing a swarm of viruses and a new evolutionary phase in the pandemic.

This time, it’s unlikely we will be barraged with a new collection of Greek alphabet variants. Instead, one or more of the multiple versions of the omicron variant that keep popping up could drive the next wave. They are different flavors of omicron, but eerily alike — adorned with a similar combination of mutations. Each new subvariant seems to outdo the last in its ability to dodge immune defenses.

“It is this constant evolutionary arms race we’re having with this virus,” said Jonathan Abraham, an assistant professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School.

The pace of evolution is so fast that many scientists depend on Twitter to keep up. A month ago, scientists were worried about BA.2.75, a variant that took off in South Asia and spawned a cloud of other concerning sublineages. In the United States, BA.4.6 and BF.7 have been slowly picking up steam. A few weeks ago, BQ.1.1 started to steal the spotlight — and still looks like a contender to take over this fall in Europe and North America. A lineage called XBB looms on the sidelines, and threatens to scramble the forecast.
To focus too much on any one possible variant is, many experts argue, missing the point. What matters is that all these new threats are accumulating mutations in similar spots in what’s called the receptor binding domain — a key spot in the spike protein where virus-blocking antibodies dock. If those antibodies can’t dock, they can’t block. Each new mutation gives the virus a leg up in avoiding this primary line of immune defense.

Most virologists demur when asked about which variant — or variants — will be infecting people this winter. That doesn’t mean they think the virus is standing still.



HR All-American
Jan 23, 2018
Purely anecdotally, I know 3 people who have tested positive in the past week and have been symptomatic (at what I'll call a flu-like level).

but if the variants are immunity-evading, why boost if you're not in a higher risk stratum?


HR Heisman
Gold Member
Dec 16, 2001
Iowa City, IA
I'm all tapped out on Covid fear. In the words of an annoying executive management consultant making $750/hour somewhere...

"It is what it is."