2 years in, Omicron's mystery remains

Omicron is circumventing precedents set up by earlier COVID-19 strains, alpha and delta, and the two-year anniversary of its arrival is teaching a new lesson on why one mutation is continuing to dominate, The New York Times reported Nov. 21. 

The variant first appeared in November 2021 when researchers in Botswana and South Africa found a COVID-19 strain that was quickly emerging and spreading. The World Health Organization named it omicron, and virologists expected its path to follow the trend of previous variants by spiking then falling off after a few months. It has since evaded expectations and immunity through dozens of mutations.

Compared to previous surges of COVID-19 cases, omicron was causing fewer hospitalizations but more infections overall in late 2021. As of November 2023, 100% of the circulating COVID-19 strains are omicron offshoots, according to the CDC

"It was almost like there was another pandemic," Adam Lauring, MD, PhD, a virologist at Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan, told the Times

A new omicron strain, JN.1, has become the most resistant version of COVID-19, and it's quickly growing in France. Its trajectory will depend on the public's immunity to past strains. 

Omicron could become a mainstay as an annual virus like the flu — two years in a row, vaccine-makers have made COVID-19 shots focused on omicron descendants — or it could veer in an unexpected direction, experts told the Times.


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