Dec 19 (HindustanTimes) – Amid the worry around the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, a new warning from some health experts has led to concerns across the world. The Omicron, since its discovery in South Africa last month, is on its way to become the dominant strain in the United States, replacing the Delta variant.
But can these two highly transmissible strains combine and create a super variant? It’s possible, according to Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Burton.
Appearing before the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology committee earlier this week, Dr Burton said that a new super variant could be created if Omicron and Delta infect someone at the same time.
“There’s certainly data, there have been some papers published again from South Africa earlier from the pandemic when people – and certainly immunocompromised people – can harbour both viruses,” Dr Burton was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
He said the high number of both delta and Omicron cases currently circulating in the United Kingdom has made this scenario more likely. On Friday, Britain reported 3,201 cases of the new variant, the biggest daily increase since Omicron was detected in the country, taking the total such cases to 14,909, according to official figures.
Dr Burton told the parliamentarians that it was certainly possible that both the strains can swap genes and trigger a more dangerous variant. Researchers have warned that such “recombination events” are extremely rare but possible if conditions are right and there is a coincidence of mostly uncontrollable events.
Peter White, a virologist at the University of New South Wales, too had warned about the possibility of a super strain emerging earlier this month in an interview to Bloomberg.
Only three such recombination events have taken place so far. One such event was recorded by British health experts when the alpha variant merged with B.1.177, which first emerged in Spain, in late January.
Scientists in California said in February that they identified another recombination variant when the Kent strain merged with B.1.429.
However, such events have so far not led to any large outbreaks or a more dangerous version of the virus. But looking at the transmissibility of Omicron, and its mutations, the health experts are keeping a keen eye on what the future holds.