The massive sweep of the Delta variant is amazing. For example, looking at recent sequencing results in California, it’s striking how incredibly homogeneous they are. A year ago, there would be a wide diversity of lineages in a given location, with multiple sharp rises and declines as various branches of the SARS-CoV-2 simultaneously flared and then died out. Now, it's essentially all Delta with a sprinkle of P.1 variants thrown in for good measure, week after week.
In other words, nothing new. Again.
Sure, there is some limited variability within Delta, but they all share the same core set of spike mutations. This is consistent with GISAID data that shows 97% of all US cases over the past 4 weeks have been Delta. Maybe the new stuff is just around the corner as more kids contract the virus, but it’s possible that Delta has nowhere to go from here. Maybe the number of escape mutations that evade vaccines AND provide sufficient ACE2 binding are exhausted in Delta - perhaps this is the evolutionary dead end?
Several possible future scenarios have been discussed, including the emergence of recombinant viruses with new properties, like a distant variant and Delta. At the moment, this is hard to imagine, given that all the infections are the same thing, but of course the possibility remains.
If this is an evolutionary dead end, a booster with the appropriate variants should squeeze this virus even further (especially if kids are vaccinated), perhaps even pushing this virus into a less virulent state. The chance to do this may be slipping through our fingers yet again - we shall see.
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