As the world, once again, came to terms with idea of tackling a new variant of COVID that has disarray on vacation plans, scientists have worked hard to investigate.
When Omicron was first reported as a new variant in November, initial results suggested that Omicron’s new variant was spreading faster & producing “milder” symptoms than the previous dominant strain, Delta.
Now, as NPR points out, a number of new studies are shedding light on the nature of Omicron. Not surprisingly, the results continue to suggest that vaccination drives are key.
A very different “immune environment” compared to the start of pandemic
Today, the world is much more protected from Covid than it was at the start of pandemic, but Omicron has caused great concern by apparently bypassing some of the protections provided by natural immunity & vaccination drives.
A new study in Denmark suggests that much of the dominance of the Omicron variant comes from being more able to evade the immune response. This raises the interesting possibility that Omicron may not have become dominant in a world less protected against Delta & other variants of current vaccines.
For the study in Denmark, the researchers concluded that Omicron is up to 3.7 times more infectious than Delta variant in fully vaccinated individuals. For unvaccinated people, however, there was no significant difference in the rate of infection between 2 variants. In other words, Delta & Omicron could have similar transmissibility, the world population is simply more protected against Delta.
“The playing field for virus is very different right now than it was when it started,” Dr. Joshua Schiffer, an infectious disease researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told NPR. “Most of the variants that we have seen so far could not survive in this immune environment.
Vaccines still key despite the high transmissibility of Omicron in vaccinated people
At the end of November, more than 110 people gathered for a Christmas party in Oslo, Norway. Although most of the guests were fully vaccinated, 70% of the participants were infected with Omicron variant from an individual attending who had returned from South Africa a few days earlier. Researchers who studied the super-spreader event concluded that Omicron is “highly transmissible” among fully vaccinated people. However, another study that has not yet been peer reviewed suggests that Omicron is not so easily able to evade T cells, the body’s second line of immunological defense.
Meanwhile, during a visit to a vaccination center in Buckinghamshire, in the south-east of England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that ‘most people in intensive care don’t have not been vaccinated & the vast majority – around 90% – have not been boosted.
Experts have warned that we still have a lot to learn about Omicron. While the symptoms of the variant may be milder & even comparable to the common cold, its high transmissibility & ability to evade vaccine protection means it could still lead to high hospitalization rates. One thing remains certain, and that is the fact that those who are vaccinated remain more protected in a world that is rushing to understand how exactly the new variant will change the course of the pandemic.