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Omicron mutations might not work together, experts say

Will the omicron COVID-19 variant actually spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the virus that causes COVID-19. The omicron variant of the coronavirus has worried experts because of its dozens of different mutations. But there’s something else to consider — the mutations might not work together, according to experts.
NIAID-RML via Associated Press

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has worried experts because of its dozens of different mutations. But there’s something else to consider — the mutations might not work together, according to experts.

Per The New York Times, experts have said that the virus becomes worse when the mutations work together. But in some cases, mutations might cancel each other out, making the variant less scary.

  • “In principle, mutations can also work against each other,” Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told The New York Times. “However, in this case, evolutionary selection is more likely to lead to the spread of a new variant with favorable than unfavorable combinations of mutations.”

Bloom told The New York Times the omicron variant has a number of mutations that make it easier for the virus to bind to human cells.

  • “But acting together, they might have a somewhat different effect,” he said.

Experts said that the mutations might be worrying because they might make the virus more transmissible. A virus that can spread fast — regardless if it can evade COVID-19 vaccines — can be truly damaging toward a population, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NBC News.

  • “I don’t think we know anything about the virulence. What we’re worried more about is the transmissibility and the immune-evasion capabilities,” he said.
  • “It may be that breakthrough infections or reinfections become more common with this, but it’s probably unlikely that you see severe breakthrough infections become common in healthy people,” he said.

Indeed, a recent study by Harvard University found that any potential new coronavirus variant that spreads quickly can be worse than variants that evade coronavirus vaccines because it can spread to more people, mutate and catch up to the antibodies that will stop it.