Host immunity can exert a complex array of selective pressures on a pathogen, which can drive highly mutable RNA viruses towards viral escape. The plasticity of a virus depends on its rate of mutation, as well as the balance of fitness cost and benefit of mutations, including viral adaptations to the host's immune response. Since its emergence, SARS-CoV-2 has diversified into genetically distinct variants, which are characterised often by clusters of mutations that bolster its capacity to escape human innate and adaptive immunity. Such viral escape is well documented in the context of other pandemic RNA viruses such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and influenza virus. This review describes the selection pressures the host's antiviral immunity exerts on SARS-CoV-2 and other RNA viruses, resulting in divergence of viral strains into more adapted forms. As RNA viruses obscure themselves from host immunity, they uncover weak points in their own armoury that can inform more comprehensive, long-lasting, and potentially cross-protective vaccine coverage.