After the fatal rounds of the deadly Delta strain that is supposed to have claimed almost half of the world population, it is now time for a new strain to hit the headlines- the Omicron. Research teams are constantly trying to get as much data as possible to help the vaccine experts in building a shield against this new strain. And they have come up with some good news probably as they claim.
Research Says, Vaccinated People Are Safer
In a first-of-its-kind study headed by Alex Sigal of the African Health Research Institute, Durban, researchers report after a pilot study that people who have been infected earlier followed by vaccinations are possibly more immunized against the new strain.
In fact, people with booster doses should also fall in this category. Although it can be considered just partial protection that the vaccines are providing, still it is good news as they can at least prevent people from entering any severe state.
A small pilot project was conducted with just 12 people (human lung cells had been used in this test) who had received complete Pfizer vaccinations. The blood samples were collected in dishes and left to react with live virus samples to observe the neutralizing effect of the vaccines. The researchers concluded that the virus had attacked the body cells through the ACE2 receptor pathway, just as it had done in the previous strains. Hence, the dilemma of starting head-on with something new had been omitted through the virus seemed to evade the systems more easily. The team opined that the vaccines worked 41 fold more on the older strains.
But as Sigal said, that this could have been worse if the virus had not been affected at all by the BNT162b2 immunity provided by the Pfizer vaccines. It is true that the immunization provided in the earlier cases was more significant, but the new strain can also be chained down partially, if not completely. In fact, the people who had already had the infections and then got both the shots of the vaccine are very much secured. People with vaccines and booster doses stood similar chances. But he also pointed out about those South African populations, who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccines that were readily administered earlier? Will they give anything similar result?
Earlier when the Beta strain was taking its round in South Africa, the vaccines were said to give excellent protection against the strain. Scientists are, therefore, quite confident about the neutralizing effects of the vaccines in handling any variant, be it Delta, Beta, or Omicron as it is the T cell response everywhere. However, in the case of the new one, the number of antibodies generated is significantly less, as the number of mutations is much more than the previous strains (with many common mutations though). As a result, we may presume that the vaccines would bring about mild infections in vaccinated people. Again, the antigen-antibody reactions vary from person to person. This calls for a detailed study.
At this early stage of the experiments with the Omicron variant, it is quite impossible to say something for sure, but researchers are determined to find answers to the questions. More tests with larger sample sizes are an absolute necessity to determine the exact nature of operation of the new virus. But the scientists are thankful that at least the pathway of action is the same and the older vaccines should prevent people from filling up the ICU beds. But what most epidemiologists are apprehensive about is that by the time it got identified, it has already spread. Only a handful of cases now can turn out into a new pandemic.