People all over the globe, including those living in countries with high vaccination rates, are currently confronting the fourth COVID wave that is being driven by the Omicron variant. This newly identified variant, which readily either escapes from hosts’ immunity acquired from past infections or from the vaccines previously acquired, informs us that the end to contagion is yet in sight. Nevertheless, some experts presumably see a silver lining due to the Omicron variant’s high infectivity and low virulence. Owing to such epidemiologic and clinical features, herd immunity could be obtainable once an adequate number of people from the population have recovered from this variant, which is on its way to evolving into a weak and regional endemic.
While discussing the origin of Omicron, we speak from two angles as its importance goes beyond a matter of mere academic concern. Identifying which factors determine how this highly transmissible variant arises may help scientists understand the risks of new variants that may emerge and assist them in minimizing its detrimental effects. Geographically, Omicron was first detected in samples collected on November 11, 2021 in Botswana and then on November 14, 2021 in South Africa.
Interdisciplinary investigations have been looking into the role of individuals with compromised immune systems that spur both the virus' mutation and the emergence of new variants. It is believed that some immune-compromised patients developed chronic infections. For months, the virus lingers inside their bodies where dozens of amino acid level changes accumulate, and more menacing descendants hence begin to emerge. Nonetheless, it doesn't necessarily mean that patient zero was in South Africa. Using sequencing data surveillance to compare all the variants, several countries, including some in Europe, have since identified cases that predate the announcement of its discovery in South Africa.
In light of continued efforts to elucidate the emergence of new virus variants, virologists proposed that simply examining what had happened in humans is insufficient for gaining insights into pandemic origins. A recent hypothesis involving the term “reverse zoonosis” suggested that the progenitor genomes of Omicron had transmitted from humans to other animal hosts, perhaps rodents and minks, and then returned back to humans once more. During this trajectory, the virus could mutate across species, adapt to immune pressure, and evolve into Omicron in the infected animal populations. This evolutionary route seems more plausible because an animal reservoir could explain why the Omicron’s genome encompasses an unusual array of mutations rarely seen before in humans, and most have agreed that SARS-CoV-2 was derived from bats or pangolins in Southeast Asia.
Two theoretical models speculating the advent of Omicron recapped the need for systematic approaches to pursue better antiviral medication to prevent or treat persistent infections in people with impaired immune systems and to monitor communications of pathogenic microbes in some wildlife that share their surroundings with us.