Does Omicron only cause mild illnesses? Too early to tell, experts say

As nations cut air links from southern Africa amid fears of a new global wave of coronavirus, scientists rushed on Sunday to collect dat...


As nations cut air links from southern Africa amid fears of a new global wave of coronavirus, scientists rushed on Sunday to collect data on the new Omicron variant, its capabilities and – possibly the more important – how effectively current vaccines will protect against it.

The first results are a mixed picture. The variant may be more transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and natural infection, than earlier versions of the virus, experts said in interviews.

Vaccines may well continue to prevent serious illness and death, although booster doses may be needed to protect most people. Still, the manufacturers of the two most effective vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are preparing to reformulate their vaccines if necessary.

“We really need to be vigilant about this new variant and prepare for it,” said Jesse Bloom, evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Even as scientists began to take a close look at the new variant, countries around the world reduced travel to and from countries in southern Africa, where Omicron was first identified. Despite the restrictions, the virus has been found in half a dozen European countries, including the United Kingdom, as well as Australia, Israel and Hong Kong.

Already, Omicron accounts for most of the 2,300 new daily cases in Gauteng Province, South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday. Nationally, new infections have more than tripled in the past week and test positivity has increased from 2% to 9%.

Scientists reacted faster to Omicron than to any other variant. In just 36 hours after the first signs of trouble in South Africa on Tuesday, researchers analyzed samples from 100 infected patients, gathered the data and alerted the world, said Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine from Durban. .

Within an hour of the first alarm, scientists from South Africa also rushed to test Covid vaccines against the new variant. Today, dozens of teams around the world, including researchers from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have joined in the hunt.

They won’t know the results for two weeks at the earliest. But the mutations that Omicron carries suggest that the vaccines are most likely to be less effective, to an unknown degree, than they were against any previous variant.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Does Omicron only cause mild illnesses? Too early to tell, experts say
Does Omicron only cause mild illnesses? Too early to tell, experts say
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