Evidence is mounting that the Northern Hemisphere could see an increase in COVID-19-related cases in fall and winter. Scientists think that many COVID-19 cases could be caused by new immune-evading strategies, behavior changes, and weakening immunity.
Nature looks at the factors that could lead to a surge – and what countries can do to reduce the negative impact of new Omicron vaccines.
Is There A Covid-19 Wave This Winter and Autumn?
A collaborative effort, the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub presented several scenarios for the United States during mid-August. After the spikes caused by the BA.5 Omicron variant, the models showed that the United States could have a relatively calm COVID-19 Season. This was provided vaccine booster campaigns were started quickly and new variants weren’t developed. Even with the new variant, a significant increase in cases was unlikely.
Justin Lessler from UNC Chapel Hill is the lead of the modeling effort. He said that hospitalizations have fallen in line with projections for more than a month. Other factors could also be a problem. Lessler states that boosters have been slow to roll out, which are designed to target Omicron as well as the original SARS virus CoV-2 strain. There are subtle signs Omicron could be evolving and creating new immunity-dodging variants.
The weekly SARS-CoV-2 Infection Survey, which is the gold standard for COVID-19 data in the United Kingdom, revealed an increase in COVID-19 incidence in England and Wales compared to its previous reports. It is still very low, but the number of people with SARS-CoV-2 in Britain is growing rapidly.
Research suggests that there are a number of immune-dodging options being developed worldwide. These options will drive an autumn-winter surge.
The Case Numbers are Increasing Due to New Variants
It is highly unlikely, according to Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. SARS/CoV-2 is increasing due to a decrease in immunity to previous infections and vaccines. This pandemic is also affecting more people than ever before. According to health officials, social dynamics in many countries have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels. This includes the United Kingdom. Others respiratory viruses can flourish in cooler months. This could be due to more indoor time.
Is there a new Omicron strain in the pipeline for this fall?
According to Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, SARS-CoV-2-watchers monitor an unprecedented number of variants from many branches within the Omicron family.
This Variant Is On The Rise Why?
Two words: immune escape. Multiple changes are being tracked by researchers to the receptor binding domain for spike proteins. Potent antibodies can block infection by targeting the spike protein. Yunlong Richard Cao is an immunologist at Beijing’s Peking University. He believes multiple viruses may be developing the same spike mutations. This is a significant advantage in spreading the virus.
What Size Are The Autumn-Winter Waves
Wenseleers estimates that autumn-winter waves will be similar in size to the ones seen in BA.5 surges based on preliminary estimates. This includes the impact on infection rates. It is hard to predict how hospitalizations will change. Researchers believe that admissions will be lower due to the increase in immunity from vaccinations and previous infections than they were during the COVID-19 waves. It is unknown how low this effect might be. Lessler states that although it’s a different game in 2020 and 2021, a surge would still be associated with an increase in deaths and hospitalizations.
Even a mild COVID-19 epidemic could pose problems for hospitals. Already, they are facing backlogs and other conditions which place a substantial burden on the winter health system.