Will we keep getting new COVID variants? Doctor describes infected body as 'bad photocopy machine'

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Scientists are on alert as we're getting new details about a new omicron subvariant, BA.2.

UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong answered some questions on Thursday morning's streaming show, ABC7@7.

What do you know about BA.2?


It's a child of omicron, at least it's considered that so far. The interesting thing about it and the reason why people are paying attention is that it went in some countries like Denmark, from about 20% in December to 45% a couple weeks ago and now it's more than 65% of the cases there. They're thinking that it's going to prolong their surge, at least locally. It's also been found in about 40 counties, including in the U.S. and in our own backyard in Santa Clara County. I think it seems a little more transmissible but personally I'm convinced that our vaccines will still keep you away from the hospital - BA.2, BA.3, BA.17 or whatever you get.

What happens if this is even more contagious?


I think if it ends up being more contagious. It means that... I think the real question is if people would get re-infected even I you get exposed to omicron - the original one. And if that happens it may mean that you have more people taken out of the workplace. However, there's no convincing evidence of that so far and if it does happen, it may not be many people. We suspect that it's not going to be more serious. The initial analysis from Denmark suggests that it doesn't cause more people to go to the hospital than the original omicron parent, so at least that's good news. I think it's watching and waiting. Whether or not it's going to be a regional virus with a few sprinklings in other countries remains to be seen but we're definitely watching it.

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Dr. Fauci hinted at a universal coronavirus vaccine... Pfizer is working on a vaccine targeting omicron... does one appear to be better than the other?


I think the Holy Grail is really a universal coronavirus vaccine because you kind of get more bang for the buck in that case. Say the regular vaccine, right now it's only looking at the spike protein but we know that the spike protein can mutate and change. So you can do one of two things: one is you can mix a bunch of different messages from different confirmations of spike proteins, because that's what an immune system reacts to and makes antibodies. Or you can take different parts of the virus, a little spike protein, a little capsule and you mix it up and that complete signal might be a bit better - not just for SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 but also other viruses that are related that cause the common cold or even some of the original SARS and MERS and other-like viruses.

Is this how it will go from now on? After one variant starts fading... another one becomes a problem?


I think we are always going to be at risk for new variants as long as the rest of the world isn't immune because every two weeks you get a new variant being created. Every time the virus makes a copy of itself, it's not a precise copy. It's like you have a bad photocopy machine at the office. So that copy doesn't look exactly the same as the original virus, and that might not be recognized by the immune system. So that's the issue. But in silver linings, we do have a lot more tools. A lot of the people in our communities have already seen some sort of COVID and have been vaccinated, so it means that we probably will have a pause for many months, hopefully. Whether or not it just comes back every winter would be one thing but I think the wild card is really whether or not we're going to see another variant. But again silver lining, is if you get vaccinated and boosted, you're going to stay away from the hospital for a really long time, particularly with that third shot.

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