Corona
© Unknown
Corona Virus
A few weeks ago, the Washington Post announced:
"President Biden, doubly boosted, is in a much more favorable position to fight COVID-19 than President Donald Trump was before the rollout of vaccines."
NPR elaborated:
"Even if you're the president, it's hard to avoid a breakthrough Covid infection."
We all know many individuals who have been vaccinated and boosted, yet still get infected. How does that happen? One reason is that original COVID-19's SARS CoV-2 virus - to which human populations have built immunologic resistance through exposure, vaccine or both - no longer circulates. References to current illness as COVID-19 represents a category mistake (when a person talks about something as though it's a different type of thing from the thing it is).

It was still pertinent to speak of 'COVID-19' after the late 2020 exit of the 'ancestral' version, since certain SARS CoV-2 descendants, via mutation, found gaps in our immunologic defenses to become next-generation (but milder) 'variants of concern' (VOC). They ran sequentially through the Greek alphabet, springing up around the globe: Alpha (England), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil), and Delta (India).

All of these second-wave variant-strains ultimately disappeared, superseded in the category of coronavirus infection by the significantly milder virus found circulating late 2021 in South Africa. This virus was given a Greek letter name as per the previous VOC format - but this was inappropriate, given that Omicron strain is not a lineal SARS-CoV-2 descendant.

Its sufferers are not therefore having 'breakthrough' COVID-19 cases. Omicron is a coronavirus, so there is some crossover; however, there is no substantial immunologic protection from previous natural-illness COVID-19 recovery - and essentially zero from doubly-dosed COVID-19 vaccines.

Before the SARS and COVID-19 pandemics, the textbook definition of a coronavirus episode was "acute, mild upper respiratory infection (common cold)". Omicron symptoms are indistinguishable from the cold's to the point that, in April, England updated its 'COVID-19'-symptom list effectively to coincide with the common cold's: "It's not possible to tell if you have COVID-19, flu or another respiratory infection based on symptoms alone," officials say.

Yet, experts have not acceded to a return to (pre-Covid) normalcy (of not fussing over the coronaviruses whose symptoms overlap with myriad other common-cold viruses).

A friend mentioned his exasperation and wonder of coming down with "COVID-19, again!" - but what were his actual symptoms?
"Not much, a bit of a cough, some achiness for two days; my wife had a fever of 99°, basically a summer cold."
"The President Gets A Summer Cold" isn't news. Those Biden articles weren't 'fake news' per se, but they did beg the question in declaring his illness to be "COVID-19". The press is not fully to blame insofar as public health authorities purposefully keep outworn, outdated 'COVID-19' in the lexicon.

I propose that the vastly milder illnesses emanating from today's predominant strain 22B-Omicron-BA.5 (and its successors) deserve rebranding outside the COVID-19 franchise. From a scientific standpoint:
  • The "22B" prefix reflects discovery as the second Omicron of 2022 (fully three years after COVID-19's eponymous origin).
  • "There's no transparent path of transmission linking Omicron to its [COVID-19] predecessors."
  • Genomically, Omicron's gap from second wave VOCs exceeds theirs from the ancestral strain.
genome chart
In other words, (per Emma Hodcroft of Nextstrain and the University of Bern): Omicron is almost like an orphan, without close relatives on the COVID-19 tree. Micaheleen Doucleff explains: "Its genes just looked so different from the other [COVID-19] genome sequences."

Dr. Hodcroft places Omicron on a genomic map far afield from all previous SARS CoV-2 strains, positing but never proving connection to the COVID-19 'family tree'.
Covid family tree
Clinically, Omicron is less lethal than influenza, verging on common cold, according to the Financial Times.
covid graph
Omicron infection does show as a positive on 'COVID-19' tests; however these have never been shown to be specific to SARS CoV-2 (versus other coronaviruses). As Omicron's not a direct SARS-CoV-2 descendant, it may just be an (uncommon) 'common cold".

"Omicron may have picked up some genetic material from a cousin, a common cold-causing coronavirus," notes Dr. David Aronoff. This shouldn't be shocking: coronaviruses represent the cold's second most common cause by type.
Circle chart
Historically, there has been no nomenclature enforcement regarding the 'common cold', itself a bucket-term based on symptoms rather than viral subtypes. So whether Omicron is a classic 'common cold' coronavirus or a novel coronavirus that looks and acts exactly like any common cold is a distinction without a difference.

No doubt if, for some reason, we put this same level of attention and testing to the other disparate viral causes of common cold, we'd find unusual variant strains of RSV, adenovirus, influenza B, etc. The thing is, we don't - because there's no cause to do so.

Omicron brings any further deep focus on coronaviruses to a point of diminishing personal and societal returns. Common colds are not tracked, discussed, tested, pre-vaccinated - let alone used as cudgels bureaucratically and legally.

Omicron, nonetheless, is still considered 'COVID-19' - yet warrants reassignment as 'common cold' - or perhaps baptism as 'Corona-22' - relegating erstwhile dangerous but now disappeared 'Covid-19' SARS-CoV-2 to the history books. So much confusion would be eliminated by Omicron's simple rename to 'Corona-22'.
  1. Current infections would no longer incorrectly be deemed COVID-19 vaccine 'breakthroughs'.
  2. Antiquated COVID-19 vaccines would be seen immediately as having no rational reason to be called 'boosters'.
  3. It would be medical malpractice to inject a 2019 flu shot today, even if relabelled as 'booster'.
  4. COVID-19 vaccines could be memorialised for prior contributions, while removed from Corona-22's pharmacopeia.
  5. mRNA for COVID-19's SARS CoV-2 would be removed from the (inappropriately) 'bivalent' new anti-Omicron vaccine.
  6. As a medical side note, retirement has occurred routinely with Monoclonal Antibody Therapy (MAT). Each is phased out as its VOC disappears.
  7. Vaccines and MAT produce the same result: spike-protein antibodies; yet, while MATs' shelf-life coincides precisely with its matched VOC, the ancestral 2020 COVID-19-vaccine has persisted with its own VOC long gone.
  8. The ambient 'fear factor' would downwardly recalibrate to Corona-22's (Omicron's) around tenfold diminishment in lethality.
  9. We'd have closure for the COVID-19 pandemic. (That day will eventually come, why not now?)
  10. COVID-19 societal roadblocks would contextually achieve obsolescence. The masks come off (and absurdities such as requiring this year's pre-school children in Philadelphia again to be masked would more easily be counter-litigated).
  11. We'd begin to appreciate how common-cold coronaviruses got there in the first place - by the same 'in like a lion, out like a lamb' pathway.
Interestingly, the last point might help elucidate some of the others. Instead of lions and lambs, let's look at wolves and poodles: both emanated from some now-extinct wolf. Current-day wolves can be as dangerous as they choose, having no investment in human health or happiness; from their own sanctuary they take human life with no remorse. The poodles' 'sanctuary' is humanity. It's foolhardy to bite the hand that feeds.

By analogy, Ebola, influenza, and the original 2003 SARS have animal reservoirs in which to retreat and regroup - and thus, can be vicious. The common cold is more like the poodle. Its viral success requires keeping human hosts upright, semi-functional and sneezing. Hospitalisation and death interrupt the chain.

A strong perimeter makes sense against wolves, but not poodles. There are influenza, but no common-cold vaccines. Pfizer is prepping one for Omicron, but as a tweak of its COVID-19 shot, keeping it under the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) umbrella. So long as the operative disease or virus term remains ' COVID-19', the EUA's liability-reduction, pharmaceutical company enrichment and political leverage remain. H.L. Mencken, cynic, said:
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary."
Whether governments had valid reason to bring fear in 2020 is arguable. None exists in 2022. The EUA, as the gift that keeps on giving, prevents any turning of the page from COVID-19 to Corona-22 or some other rational resolution. There is no reasonable or legitimate public safety purpose to behave as if 'COVID-19' is still the major threat in 2022, nor that the COVID-19 vaccine is still necessary. Moreover, the incipient 'bivalent' Omicron vaccine fulfills no genuine patient need. Historically, the common cold has never been pre-vaccinated; vaccinating after-the-fact has minimal positive and potential negative effects; and the COVID-19 portion has no medicinal, only legal purpose for existing as the second ingredient.
About the Author:
Dr. Randall Bock is a primary care physician near Boston, Massachusetts, and the author of Overturning Zika. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter.