We have a new COVID-19 variant—BA.2.86—turning heads even among the calm, cool, and collected scientists. This is what we know, what we don’t know, and what’s likely next. What is happening? SARS-CoV-2 continues to mutate. This is expected, as this is what viruses do to survive. There was ~20% possibility of another “Omicron-like event” in 2023. Since Omicron arrived on the scene in November 2021, we’ve only seen incremental changes, which have created a ladder-like pattern (see panel A below). This is a good thing—we
Thank you, again, for calm and comprehensive comment on what's happening. You are making a difference.
Thank you. This is unwelcome but extremely valuable news. Appreciate your comprehensive and well organized presentation of it.
Like others who have already commented, the thing that strikes me most about this post is how marvelous you are, Katelyn. The work you do to stay on top of the scientific information and then present it to the rest of us in clear, straightforward prose is unexcelled in its skill and its value. Thank you!
1. Why not a spillover from any of the many animal reservoirs? Seems more than possible, as does the immuno-comp option. Not sure the origin is even knowable—and it’s somewhat academic.
2. Where does/did the 20% chance of a major set of mutations come from? Seems pretty arbitrary. How can anyone possibly know the future evolutionary morphospace of this virus?
One comment: evolutionary rates are not guaranteed to be slow and additive. We have erected a permanent global selective pressure to escape immunity.
3. “This is because SARS-CoV-2 has historically evolved to escape antibodies (first line of defense) rather than T-cells (second line of defense) that primarily protect us from severe disease.”
That’s no guarantee that it won’t ever start eating into the second line of defense. Is there something about its structural biology (or our immune systems, etc) that constrains such a move? Because “it hasn’t happened yet” is a thin reed.
Close cousins of this virus have much higher death rates. Like, 15% for Sars and ~40% for Mers. If this virus can jack up its death rate while maintaining sufficient infectivity—and we are obviously going to let it “figure it out” as we are doing nothing—then we are screwed.
Any biophysical, genetic, or any other reason(s) to think this is impossible?
4. Sure, there has to be a ceiling to infectivity but how do we know what it is?
We’ll of course find out, and if this is bad, we’ll be hit hard, with less excuse than we had in 2020, which was already pretty close to zero.
5. If the upcoming vax formula doesn’t help, will companies provide a new one? Will the govt pay? Will we simply have to have more mass death before anyone takes advantage of the much hyped miracle of fast mRNA production and distribution?
Flying nearly blind, as you said; didn’t ventilate buildings; and all the rest. We had the chance; we blew it off.
At least here, we might luck out (sooner or later, we won’t, of course, whatever the epidemic pathogen).
Carbon? Nukes? Entirely and literally guaranteed to crush us—and we are doing net-nothing. Less than net-nothing.
Thank you. Wondering if it would be timely to re-up vaccination? Last shot was October 2022.
We are so stinking grateful for your calm, comprehensive reporting. Thank you!
My question for YLE: is Long COVID something we shoule be worried about? That's a rhetorical question. We know it is. That makes we wonder why it is not mentioned in this post.
Thank you. If I understand correctly, it sounds as if the jury is out about whether the OTC swab tests will detect a positive case of this. I hope I misunderstood.
Thank you for this timely and informative post. Why, do you think, is public health “searching in the dark”? One would think that governments would strengthen sentinel points, not dismantle or weaken them. Are the reasons political, fiscal, denial...all of the above? It’s hard to make sense of it since COVID is here to stay, as is its ongoing mutation. Shouldn’t those entrusted with safeguarding public health have all the tools needed to, well, safeguard us? Seems like the preparedness lessons our governments should have learned have not stuck.
Thank you again for keeping the public updated and informed. I am so grateful. I also wanted to know whether the typical home test will be sensitive and specific in detecting this new version of Covid. And I was curious to see maps, as they emerge, of the geographical spread of BA 2.86.
Thank you for being a model for science reporting, Dr. Jetelina! Calm balanced, curiously skeptical when appropriate (which is a lot of the time with science - if only the media and public agencies did that). Question: What are some examples of viruses that have followed Path B (the non-ladder)? Also - are there (or should there be) vaccines that target (or incite our making antibodies to) parts of the virus other than spike, and which 'evolve' much less than the spike component? With natural infection, do we make antibodies to both spike and other parts of SARS-Cov2?
Where has it shown up in wastewater testing?
Thank you for all you do! I can't imagine trying to navigate this pandemic without your wonderful info! Stay the course.
I'll join the "thank you's", for your calm, objective, interpretation of the latest in the Covid evolution. On my personal level, of course, this information is frightening, maybe not as much as when this pandemic began, but still...back to "shields up and good luck!"
Thank you. You are amazing.
“It lights up 2 channels instead of 3.” Isn’t it possible that other variants could exist or develop that only light up 2 channels?
-family physician, mom of twin girls, scientist, admirer
Thank you. You are a highly trustworthy source of information on this evolving saga. I was planning on getting another booster in October, but I wonder if the available mixture will include the new variant by then.