Omicron is likely not the last COVID-19 variant that will cause a “lot of concern,” the director of the National Institutes of Health warned on Sunday.
Dr. Francis Collins said that the virus likely will continue to mutate from the original coronavirus that emerged out of Wuhan, China.
“It’s certainly possible that this is not the last emerging variant that will attract a lot of attention and a lot of concern,” Collins told anchor Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”
Collins speculated that Omicron developed in an immunocompromised person who was infected with another variation of the virus.
“This one does have the largest number of mutations that we’ve seen so far, Omicron, with about 50 mutations, compared to the original Wuhan virus. And it looks as if they probably arose in an immunocompromised individual, this is a hypothesis but it seems plausible, who wasn’t able to completely fight off the virus,” Collins said.
“And so, it remained in the system, maybe for months, in that person until they finally got over it. And that is, of course, a perfect situation for the virus to be able to pick up additional mutations along the way.”
He said it’s likely that similar scenarios will play out that will result in other variants.
Dr. Francis Collins speculated that Omicron developed in an immunocompromised person.Mario Tama/Getty Images
“To the extent that that’s going to keep happening if we don’t have adequate immune protection across the globe, yeah, we’re probably going to see something and we’ll have to use some of the other letters in the Greek alphabet,” he said.
The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a variant of concern, though it’s not known yet whether it causes more severe disease or is resistant to vaccines.
Since the variant was first detected in South Africa, it has spread to more than 40 countries, including the US.