Delta Is Dominating Other COVID Variants, That Doesn't Mean More Won't Emerge

The Delta variant's dominance is suppressing other variants of concern and interest, but just because they're not overtaking the dominant strain doesn't mean it's the end of further COVID-19 mutations.

Delta emerged in October 2020 in India and its high transmissibility has hindered other variants' ability to spread. Despite the mutation's hold over parts of the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking at least 14 other variants that emerged since Delta was discovered—and it's likely that additional ones will develop over time.

Variants occur whenever a virus is given the room to mutate. So, as long as the virus is circulating, there's potential for new variants to emerge.

What experts can't fully predict is the transmissibility or danger level of future mutations. So far, the Lambda and Mu variants failed to take hold in the same way Delta has, although the Mu variant accounts for a "large portion" of cases in South America, according to the WHO.

delta variant other variatns emerging
The Delta variant is dominating other strains of COVID-19 but that doesn't mean more variants won't emerge. Above, people, some in masks, head to a St. Louis Cardinals game in downtown St. Louis on August 3, 2021, in St Louis, Missouri. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Delta posed such a strong threat to other mutations that the WHO downgraded three COVID-19 mutations from "variants of concern" to "variants under monitoring." Eta, Iota and Kappa were reclassified in September because they were "just not taking hold" in light of the other variants of concern.

Experts in the United Kingdom are currently monitoring a sub-variant of the Delta mutation, dubbed by some "Delta Plus." One of the thousands of variants of COVID that have circulated around the world since the start of the pandemic, experts note it's not surprising to see new mutations arise. "Delta Plus" has slowly been increasing in the United Kingdom, but so far, there isn't any reason to believe that it's more transmissible or deadly than any other variant.

"It is likely to be up to 10 percent more transmissible," Professor Francois Balloux, director of the University College London's Genetics Institute, told the BBC. "It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously."

Variants alone are not a cause for concern, as it's a regular occurrence with viruses. It's not unusual for new flu viruses to emerge and at times, vaccines have to be updated to account for the changes. What's cause for concern is the potential for a variant to emerge that evades therapeutics or vaccines.

Even though the Delta variant has diminished the effectiveness of vaccines and therapeutics, vaccines still remain a powerful force against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. So far, no variant has posed a significant threat to the weapons the world has to fight the pandemic.

Still, experts aren't letting their guard down that a variant could emerge that threatens the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines. The possibility raises a global need to ensure high vaccination rates in every country, according to the WHO, because the virus spreading anywhere allows variants to emerge and they've shown to rapidly spread around the world.