- Omicron – which is the latest variant of COVID-19 to have raised concerns, is said to have several mutations.
- The World Health Organization has labelled it as a 'variant of concern' (VOC).
- The need of the hour is to find out the efficacy of various vaccines against Omicron.
A new strain of coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, Omicron has become a hot topic of discussion worldwide for its increasing number of cases across different countries.
The United Nations’ specialised agency for international public health, World Health Organization has also designated it as a ‘variant of concern’ considering preliminary research that this virus has more potential of causing infection than others. This virus variant is said to have genetic modifications that are expected or known to affect traits like transmissibility, illness severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape.
Recommended actions by WHO against Omicron
- Developing a better understanding of the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants by increasing monitoring and sequencing activities.
- Complete genome sequences and accompanying metadata should be submitted to a publicly accessible database, such as ‘Global initiative on sharing all influenza data’ (GISAID).
- Field investigations and laboratory assessments should be conducted to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC.
Transmissibility of Omicron and efficacy of vaccines
Image source: © Viewimage | Megapixl.com
It's uncertain whether Omicron is more transmissible (that is, easier to spread from person to person) than other variants like Delta. The number of people testing positive has increased in regions across the world. Research studies are being planned to assess if this is attributable to Omicron or other variables.
Scientists are unsure how serious the Omicron variant is or whether it will affect the protection provided by current vaccines. There's further conflicting information about immunisations' ability to protect patients against the Omicron version.
Initial laboratory studies demonstrate that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (BNT162b2) exhibit significantly reduced neutralisation effects, however three doses are required to neutralise the Omicron variant.
Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer said, “Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine.”
In another research, the COVID-19 vaccine created by China's state-owned Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the Russian-designed Sputnik vaccine, were found to elicit little or no antibodies against Omicron.
To know more, read here.
Reality check: Can current COVID-19 vaccines fight Omicron?
Till date, no specific vaccine has proven itself completely effective against Omicron. To analyse and validate protection against Omicron and inform the most effective path ahead, vaccine companies will continue to collect more laboratory data and evaluate real-world effectiveness.