As scientists work to get a handle on [COVID] variants, the situation gives the public a rare front-row seat and real-time view of the unpredictability of viral evolution. The virus is changing, and scientists are preparing for a wide range of possible futures.
“We do have to come to terms with the fact that I’m pretty confident that SARS-CoV-2 is going to be more like influenza, which is with us all the time because the virus is changing, and we have to worry about keeping our vaccines updated,” [evolutionary biologist Jesse] Bloom said. “On the other hand, I think that a year from now, it’s going to be much less of a problem.”
Already, researchers are increasing genomic surveillance to track changes to the virus.
People like Bloom are building maps of the genetic escape routes the virus could take, so that when mutations inevitably arise, scientists can quickly interpret whether they’re likely to pose a threat.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a world where the pandemic never ends. The outlook is improving as vaccines are rolled out. If vaccines become outdated, they will be updated.
The past few months have been a wake-up call: “Don’t think that we are cleverer than evolution.”