The only thing we know for certain two years into the pandemic is the ever-changing, ever-mutating nature of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. Since the epidemic began in December 2019, the virus has generated a slew of varieties called after Greek letters such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and now Omicron.
Viruses are constantly evolving, which might result in the formation of a new variety, or strain, of a virus. Typically, a variation has little effect on how the virus functions. However, they occasionally cause it to behave in unexpected ways.
Changes in the virus that causes COVID-19 are being tracked by scientists all around the world. Their research is assisting specialists in determining if some COVID-19 variations spread more quickly than others, how they may damage your health, and how effective certain vaccinations may be against them.
The news media revealed a novel version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in December 2020, and other variants have since been found and are being investigated. The new varieties raise concerns: Are individuals more likely to become ill as a result of them? Will the COVID-19 vaccinations still be effective? Is there anything new or different you should do now to keep safe?
Scientists track all variations, however, some are classified as variants being tracked, variants of interest, variants of concern, and variants of significant importance. Some variations spread more easily and quickly than others, perhaps leading to an increase in COVID-19 cases. A rise in the number of cases will place more demand on healthcare resources, resulting in more hospitalizations and, perhaps, more fatalities.
These categories are based on the ease with which the variation spreads, the severity of the symptoms, how well the variant responds to therapies, and how effectively immunizations protect against the variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the new form, known as Omicron, as “very transmissible” in November 2021. Since then, the variation has wreaked havoc in a number of nations, causing the number of cases to reach all-time highs. Even as case numbers climb throughout the world — the United States has lately averaged 800,000 new infections per day — health experts believe that the Omicron death toll will be smaller than the destruction inflicted by past waves, notably the Delta-driven one.
The novel coronavirus strain was discovered in South Africa at the end of November last year, and experts believe it is to blame for the country’s recent increase in cases. As with previous varieties, some infected persons show no symptoms, according to South African scientists at the time.
Shortly after, the WHO designated the new variation as “very transmissible” and called it Omicron. The variation has over 50 previously unknown alterations, including more than 30 mutations in the spike protein used by the coronavirus to connect to human cells. According to Reuters, existing vaccines target that spike protein. This suggests that Covid-19 vaccinations may be less effective against Omicron.
While the number of infections is substantially larger, the incidence of fatalities and even hospitalizations are significantly lower than in Delta. Several studies support this, including one done by South African scientists who discovered that persons identified with Omicron during a two-month period were 80 per cent less likely to require hospitalization than people infected with other forms. The experts, on the other hand, believe that a high degree of immunity is partially to blame for the country’s lower requirement for hospitalization.
According to experts, one reason for the decreased severity might be that Omicron replicates quicker in the airways and slower in the lungs. According to University of Hong Kong researchers, “The Omicron version multiplied roughly 70 times faster than the Delta variant and the original Sars-CoV-2 virus 24 hours after infection. In contrast, the Omicron version reproduced less efficiently (more than ten times less) in human lung tissue than the original Sars-CoV-2 virus, suggesting that the sickness is milder.”
It did, however, warn that the variant’s overall hazard was “quite severe” because to its heightened transmissibility. Six different studies, according to The Guardian, concluded that Omicron did not inflict as much harm to the lungs as Delta and other types.
Last week, WHO Incident Manager Abdi Mahamud also stated that additional evidence was accumulating that Omicron caused less severe sickness since it impacted the upper respiratory system. “We are seeing more and more research indicating that Omicron is infecting the upper portion of the body, as opposed to the other [variants] that might cause severe pneumonia,” he was cited as saying by Reuters.
While protection against Omicron may fade a few months after receiving two vaccination doses, many studies have shown that taking a booster dose creates antibodies capable of combating the new strain. Early data from a real-world investigation revealed that the risk of contracting Omicron was “substantially decreased following a booster vaccine,” according to Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency.
“Two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines offered much lower levels of protection against symptomatic infection than they do against Delta.” According to Reuters, “when supplemented with a dose of Pfizer vaccine, there was approximately 70% protection against symptomatic illness for patients who first got AstraZeneca and over 75% protection for those who received Pfizer.”
Later studies came to the same conclusion: booster dosages give protection against Omicron. Danish researchers discovered that when people who had previously received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination were given a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine, their vaccine efficacy was restored. Research conducted by pharmaceutical firms has also yielded promising outcomes. In a lab test, Pfizer stated a three-course dose of their vaccine was able to neutralize the Omicron version. Its CEO also stated that the business is developing an Omicron-specific vaccination that would be ready in March.