The Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has expanded across southern Africa and been discovered in over 30 additional countries, has raised concerns that it might severely reduce the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccinations.
While scientists strive to comprehend the entire scope of Omicron’s effects, others speculate that this new coronavirus may produce less sickness than its predecessors. They however also warn that it’s too soon to draw any conclusions.
The evidence from the new variant’s first cases is sparse.
According to a research data released this week by the European Centre for Illness Prevention and Control, half of the patients in 70 infections recorded in Europe with data on disease severity had no symptoms and half had moderate symptoms.
There were no serious illnesses, hospitalizations, or deaths reported. The European agency, on the other hand, said it would need data from hundreds of cases to adequately assess illness consequences, which may take several weeks. Furthermore, the majority of cases found in Europe thus far have been among younger people who have been completely vaccinated, making them less likely to develop serious disease.
Symptoms for re-infected patients and those infected after vaccination appear to be moderate in South Africa, where the daily number of reported Covid-19 cases quadrupled on Wednesday to 8,561.
“Some evidence from South Africa suggests that it may actually cause more mild illness but … I caution you that a lot of the patients South Africa initially were among young university students,” Dr. Carlos Del Rio, an infectious diseases expert at Emory University in Atlanta, said on Thursday during an online briefing from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Scientists are performing laboratory research to interpret Omicron, as evidence on real-world infections continues to surface. The This variant contains roughly 50 changes that have never been observed together previously, including more than 30 alterations in the coronavirus’s spike protein, which is used to connect to human cells. Vaccines are currently being used to target the protein increase.
“Typically when viruses accumulate a lot of mutations they lose some fitness,” said Dr. John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in Philadelphia. Certain Omicron mutations may impair the ability of the virus to cleave, changing the behavior of the spike protein, he said.
Omicron might have formed over months in an immunocompromised human, such as an HIV patient in southern Africa, according to some experts. If that’s the case, “the virus modified not to kill that host,” according to Wherry.
The newest variation may have developed from an animal host, according to opposing ideas.
The other big concern about Omicron is whether it will be able to replace the Delta form, which currently accounts for the vast majority of infections globally. If Omicron becomes prevalent yet produces milder sickness, it might signal a turning point in the virus’s evolution into a seasonal menace, similar to influenza, according to Sumit Chanda, an infectious disease expert at Scripps Research in San Diego.
Within a few months, the Omicron variety might be responsible for more than half of all COVID-19 infections in Europe, according to the European Union’s public health office.
While Omicron research is ongoing, disease specialists advise that individuals protect themselves from the coronavirus by having either initial or booster vaccines, wearing masks in crowded places, ventilating rooms, and washing their hands.
(Adapted from NDTV.com)