Jan 15, 2022 - Health

Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron

Three different COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on January 14, 2022 in New York City

Three COVID-19 testing companies place testing locations outside Grand Central Terminal on Jan. 14 in New York City. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Experts are warning that subsequent COVID-19 variants are likely to come after Omicron, AP reports.

Why it matters: The warnings come as there's no guarantee that subsequent variants "will cause milder illness or that existing vaccines will work against them," underscoring the need for widespread vaccination, AP writes.

  • The chance of the virus mutating increases with every infection, raising concerns as the highly contagious Omicron variant rapidly spreads, per AP.

Between the lines: It's not clear what subsequent variants might look like or how they may impact the pandemic, experts caution.

What they're saying: "The faster Omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants," Leonardo Martinez, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, told AP.

  • "It’s the longer, persistent infections that seem to be the most likely breeding grounds for new variants," Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, said, per AP.
  • "It’s only when you have very widespread infection that you’re going to provide the opportunity for that to occur."

The big picture: Preliminary research suggests that the highly contagious Omicron variant is more resistant to prior coronavirus infection than with other variants, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Initial studies also have found that coronavirus vaccines — particularly without a booster shot — are less effective against Omicron infections than other variants, although they appear to hold up well against severe disease.
  • The World Health Organization reported nearly 20 million new COVID-19 cases over the last seven days.

Go deeper: Protection from prior infection significantly reduced against Omicron

Go deeper