“Omicron may not be as bad as we think it could be, but I think it’s fair to treat him that way at the moment,” he said.
So far, the world has been slow to respond to every single corona virus. This time around, early warnings from South Africa and Botswana would have given a significant start.
“It’s hard to know: have we just grasped the reality and now the world is reacting at a reasonable pace as the variety emerges?” Asked Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who oversees a variety of research collaborations led by Harvard Medical School.
Omekron sounded the alarm because it had a large number of variations, more than ever before. Probably 30 is at a key location, the spike protein that allows the virus to attach to human cells.
Scientists have identified some of the earlier variants that were more contagious or less resistant to vaccination. But they have never seen this particular tower of change.
Most are “really unique to the virus,” said Dr. William Moss of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s a combination of our immune system’s potential and ability to survive, which worries everyone.”
“It’s a balance,” Moss said. “We want to take it seriously because of the combination of mutations, but we don’t want to panic and we don’t want to react much until we really get to know more about the virus.”
Anxiety about answers
Scientists still have very little data on whether omecron causes more severe disease than other types. And while it has been diagnosed in several countries just days after the announcement of its discovery, it is too early to know how contagious it is.
The alpha variant, which emerged about a year ago, was more transmissible than the virus that started the epidemic. Then Delta Hut, far more contagious than Alpha.
It is unclear how Omicron will compete in a place like the United States where that strong delta variant is causing more than 99% of the current COVID-19 cases, said Louis Mansky, director of the Institute for Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota. Said
Lemieux said that even in some parts of South Africa, the alleged leap in cases caused by omicron does not indicate that the mutant is more contagious than the delta.
“We don’t really know if Omekron is out of the delta at all, or if it’s just because of the chance it has become a dominant tension in some places,” he said.
To better understand the omicron, scientists are trying to figure out how it emerged. This is not a Delta race. One popular theory is that someone with a severely weakened immune system was infected with the corona virus and could not move for long enough to cause mutations.
“It’s totally weird,” said Bedford, who said the variety circulating in the summer of 2020 appears to be a close relative of Omekron.
Viruses change whenever they spread, and it is possible that they could not be detected with poor testing of Omicron Code-19. But Bedford said its sudden appearance is more likely to be a cat-and-mouse struggle because an immune-compromising body fights a virus that repeatedly modifies its spike protein to avoid detection. (Bedford is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports the Associated Press Health and Science Department.)
What to look for
Scientists say it could take two to four weeks to get some important answers.
One of the biggest concerns is how much of an exception Omicron can avoid. Beta variant vaccine protection has been the biggest challenge so far, but fortunately the mutation has not spread widely.
“It is highly unlikely that this new form will survive all the antibodies produced after vaccination,” said E. John Werry, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Vaccine makers and other scientists are setting up laboratory tests to determine how well antibodies produced by vaccines or previous infections can fight omecron. It takes time because first of all, they have to grow samples of so-called “pseudoviruses” which have alarmingly new mutations.
But that would not be the “whole story,” Moss said.
In addition to antibodies, the immune system has several layers of defense, including T cells that help prevent serious illness, even if one experiences an infection.
Specialists will also carefully monitor the spread and severity of infections caused by Omekron.
As far as treatment is concerned, Regeneron says its COVID-19 antibody may be less effective against cocktail omecron, although further testing is needed. But there are some antiviral pills in the pipeline, a long-needed new option that should not be affected by omicron mutations.
What to do now?
Scientists urge people to take simple precautions while waiting for answers – wear masks indoors, avoid crowds, take shots if you are one of 45 million American adults who have not yet been vaccinated. Regardless of which type is circulating.
One thing is clear: vaccination is important. Today’s shots protect Delta and other versions of the virus that are already spreading regardless of whether the Omicron spreads or explodes. The United States and other countries are urging people eligible for booster not to wait because the extra food causes a massive burst of antibodies fighting the virus.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is fully responsible for all content.