What Will The Next COVID Variant Be?

It’s obviously impossible to know the future, but science lets us make a good educated bet, as top scientists work on this question. We look at Nel, and Venter’s (2022), scientific article to decode what the next variant will be like.

Why New Variants Develop

We know that viruses like COVID are pushed by their own special evolutionary factors to be as infectious as possible and to hide or fight people’s immune systems (Nel, & Venter, 2022).

New variants of COVID have become the dominant strains by being better at 1 or both of those factors; with more recent variants being both more contagious and far better at dodging antibody-driven responses from vaccines and earlier infections (Nel, & Venter, 2022).

How New Variants Develop

We don’t know where all new variants come from (Dennehy et al., 2022). That being said, many scientists believe a fair amount of new variants get their big break in people that have long term COVID infections, like what’s been seen in people with compromised immune systems (Dennehy et al., 2022).

Weak immune systems can be caused in certain diseases (e.g., HIV), malnutrition, certain genetic disorders, medications (anticancer drugs and radiation therapy) and temporarily by a stem cell or organ transplants.

More studies are needed, but preliminary data suggests that these types of infections often go on for many months (Dennehy et al., 2022). This allows the viruses to get new mutations over time as they presumably hide and fight the weakened immune systems and develop their ability to infect human cells (Dennehy et al., 2022).

Because the virus population size within persistent infections is not limited by bottlenecks at transmission (small amount of virus particles enter your body to start an infection), the rate of mutation is faster in comparison with what’s seen in the general population, so these types of infections typically generate a lot of new genes / mutations (Dennehy et al., 2022).

What Have We Learnt From Omicron?

South African scientist, Dr Waasila Jassat, studied 335 219 South Africans who went to hospital with COVID-19 between Nov 21, 2021, to Jan 22, 2022.

Her study’s aim was to better understand the severity of the Omicron COVID wave by comparing it to the previous 3 waves in the country (Jassat et al., 2022).

Jassat et al., (2022) found that the Omicron wave was considerably less severe than previous waves had been.

Jassat’s study convincingly argued that the omicron wave was less severe not because the virus had changed to make infections milder in people’s bodies, but because people now have some immunity against COVID from vaccines and past infections (Nel, & Venter, 2022).

Why Was This South African Study Impressive?

Jassat and her team, made other scientists excited because she fused aspects of South Africa’s impressive COVID-19 surveillance network (Nel, & Venter, 2022). They used the national database of all positive COVID-19 tests, combined with our national surveillance programme of all patients admitted to hospital with COVID, and the national COVID genomic sequencing data (Nel, & Venter, 2022).

Plus, what she found has been constantly reported by other scientists studying Omicron, who have also noted that omicron is less clinically severe (Nel, & Venter, 2022).


We don’t know exactly where or what the next big variant will be, but we know that it will most likely be more infectious and better at evading the immune system. So what we need to do is prepare personally by vaccinating, which can help to prevent it.

By studying Omicron & other highly contagious variants of COVID, scientists have seen repeatedly, strengthening people’s immune systems is crucial to prevent long term infections. Vaccines are a big part of this because relying on getting infected is not enough to prepare the immune system.

How Much Immunity Does Previous Infections Offer?

After the 4th wave of COVID, 97% of South Africans had antibodies to COVID-19 due to vaccination and/or infection (Bingham et al., 2022). This is a big jump from the 45% overall immunity we found in our HUTS 1 Study in Nov 2020 to April 2021.

Yet South Africa has still gone through a 5th wave.

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