COVID-22 has been trending on Twitter lately and it has got everyone thinking that another outbreak of the Coronavirus like COVID-19 is going to happen next year. That isn’t the case however and here is what has caused this misconception.
As you know, COVID-19 is a short form of Coronavirus Disease 2019, a disease caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2).
The “19” in the COVID-19 refers to the year in which SARS-COV-2 was first detected-2019. However, there hasn’t been a COVID-20 or COVID-21 because all the variants that have emerged during the ongoing pandemic belong to the same family as SARS-COV-2.
The Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Lambda, and other variants of concern and interest identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) have all resulted from genetic mutations that took place in the original SARS-CoV-2.
Where Did “COVID-22” Come From?
So, where did this term “COVID-22” come from? Sai Reddy, an Associate Professor of Immunology at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, coined the term a few days ago.
In a recent interview, Reddy warned that a new variant “could” emerge in the year 2022 that could be more deadly than the Delta variant, which first emerged from India. Note that he used “could” because 2022 hasn’t started yet.
Reddy’s only mistake is that he referred to the possibility of the emergence of a deadlier strain of Coronavirus next year using the term COVID-22, sending Twitter into a meltdown.
Apparently, he also used the term COVID-21 when describing the Delta variant to a German publication called “Blick.”
Why COVID-22 is Incorrect
Reddy missed three things here. First, the Delta variant was first detected in India in October 2020 and not in 2021. Second, the Delta variant is the variation of the original SARS-COV-2. Third, there is no variant named “COVID-22” that has been identified by WHO or any major public health agency.
As far as variants are concerned, the Delta and Delta plus variants are the two variants of concern that have been spreading like wildfire around the world and are far more contagious and deadlier than the original SARS-COV-2. The Lambda variant spread across South America and has been detected in 30 countries.
So, the question is could even more contagious variants of the Coronavirus emerge in the year 2022? The answer is yes, as long as the SARS-COV-2, the Coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 infection, keeps on mutating and spreading.
Will Vaccines Help Against Variants?
Where protection offered by the existing COVID-19 vaccines is concerned, they are expected to be effective against these variants as well, as long as the structures of the spike protein of the SARS-COV-2 don’t change too much during mutations.
While changes in the viruses happen gradually, the configuration of the spike protein of the Coronavirus may change more and more with each mutation, resulting in new variants that would be able to escape or evade the protection offered by existing vaccines and natural immunity.
To counter this, public health surveillance systems must be enabled to track the different variants of the SARS-COV-2. It would empower the scientists to decide when variants have changed enough to merit the production of new vaccines to neutralize the variants.
Updating Vaccines (If Needed)
Vaccine manufacturers such as Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, who have used the mRNA technology, and AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, who have used the Adenovirus platform, must come up with a vaccine technology that allows straightforward swapping of different updated versions of the spike protein of the Coronavirus.
Having such vaccine technology at disposal will be a big plus and the virus will not be able to catch the world off guard as it did in 2020.
In the end, it is recommended that instead of speculating on what variant may emerge in the future, try to stick to the appropriate terms devised by the WHO to describe the different variants of the Coronavirus.
The use of new and unofficial terms like COVID-20, COVID-21, or COVID-22 will only cause confusion and panic among the masses.