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Omicron Variant- Is the Vaccine Enough for Protection?

By Harshita Parmar

With the new, infectious Omicron variant on the rise, how effective will vaccines actually be? Scientists and virus experts are concerned with the amount of protection the vaccine will give against this new variant in particular. What is more alarming is that the Omicron variant is 3 to 6 times more likely to cause reinfection.



What is the new Omicron Variant?

The variant, which is believed to originate from South Africa, has been declared a variant of concern by the CDC. So far, 20 countries, including the US, have positive cases of the Omicron variant, infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Evidence suggests that this variant is far more likely to be infectious, while also being capable of causing reinfection, because there is a small section of genes with the same genetic code as the common cold virus. This form of genetic coding has never been seen in any other COVID variants. Moreover, previous infection will not provide immunity against Omicron, according to Anne von Gottburg, a microbiologist at the communicable disease institute.


How deadly is the Omicron Variant?

According to infectious-disease physician Richard Lessels in Durban, South Africa, the Omicron variant is 3 to 6 times more likely to cause reinfection than the previous Delta and Beta variants. The risk of infection is also 3 times higher for this variant, making it highly transmissible. On 1st December, South Africa recorded 8,561 cases, which has been quite a rise from the number of cases recorded in the last few days of November.


Will the vaccine work against this variant?

According to current studies, the combination of the initial doses of the vaccine, along with the booster, is capable of providing protection against the Omicron variant to some extent, because some mutations of the virus may allow it to evade vaccine protection. However, as compared to other vaccine companies, like AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, and Novavax, that provide an equivalent of 90% protection against Omicron, as concluded from the antibodies found in blood samples of volunteers, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, made using mRNA technology, have shown the most competence in protecting from infection caused by the new variant, producing much higher levels of antibodies in volunteers. Contrarily, the CEO of Pfizer, Ugur Sahin, claims that we may need another vaccine to provide maximum protection against the Omicron variant.



What else can we do to protect ourselves against this variant?

The practice of frequent hand washing for 20 seconds combats the virus best, as soap works to disintegrate and kill virus particles. In addition to handwashing, wearing masks in public places, disinfecting certain surfaces, and maintaining social distance are the few ways we can protect ourselves from infection.



Sources:

  1. Washington Post, Omicron Covid Variant Three Times More Likely to Cause Reinfection than Delta, S. Africa Study says

  1. Washington Post, Many vaccines offer protection as boosters; Pfizer and Moderna may work best, study says


  1. Nature, How Bad is Omicron? What Scientists Know So Far https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03614-z


  1. CDC, Statement on B. 1.1.529 (Omicron Variant)


  1. NY Times, Live Updates, Omicron Variant Found in Several States https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/12/03/world/omicron-variant-covid


  1. CDC, Show Me The Science- Why Wash Your Hands https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html


  1. Health Matters NYP, How Soap Suds Kill the Coronavirus


  1. CDC, How to Protect Yourself & Others


  1. CNBC, Omicron covid variant may have picked up a piece of the common cold virus https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/05/omicron-variant-may-have-picked-up-a-piece-of-common-cold-virus.html

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