The emergence of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron in South Africa, reported from some other countries too, has triggered apprehension in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi instructing officials to be proactive and review the guideline of international travel. Based on the information available so far, Dr Samiran Panda, the head of epidemiology and communicable diseases division of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said mRNA vaccines against Covid might not be effective against Omicron. “mRNA vaccines are directed towards spike protein and receptor interaction. So mRNA vaccines need to be tweaked around this change already observed. But not all vaccines are similar. Covishield and Covaxin produce immunity through a different antigen presentation to our system,” Dr Panda said.
The World Health Organization has classified Omicorn as a variant of concern though not much is known yet about this variant. It is believed to be more transmissible and immune-evasive, reports said.
What scientists have so far observed in Omicron is structural changes, Dr Panda said. But more studies are required to confirm that the variant is deadlier than the other variants of Covid. “Structural changes have been observed in a newly reported emerging variant which is indicative of a possibility for adherence to cell, cellular receptors with an increased affinity, with the possibility of transmission,” Dr Panda said. But whether the variant is getting transmitted really fast or is causing clusters of infection that require a little more time to come up needs to be examined. By examination, he meant laboratory-based observations, population-based studies, he said.
“WHO examined all this and we need to wait for some more time to figure out whether there is an increased clustering of infections happening or severe form of disease or excessive deaths. Taking all these into consideration, WHO has announced called it Variant of Concern,” Dr Panda said.
Scientists have already found that this variant has 10 mutations. The more a variant mutates, it might become more transmissible it, but that does not make a variant deadlier, the expert said.
No cases of the variant have been found in India so far and the Centre has already urged all states and Union territories to be on the guard. States are also bringing back some restrictions for international travellers.