Mosialos: The Omicron variant is quite contagious – Why should the third dose of the vaccine be accelerated?

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After the appearance of the new African variant Omicron of the coronavirus, the vaccinated people should do the third dose and those who have not been vaccinated yet, should be vaccinated immediately, emphasizes in a Facebook post the professor of Health Policy Elias Mosialos of the School of Economics and Political Science of London (LSE) and Imperial College. As he says, “we do not know if the new variant will prevail. “But it is very possible that we have adequate protection from existing vaccines, especially those who have done all three doses.”

Mr. Mosialos reviews the data so far:

– Is there a specific reason beyond the obvious that makes scientists worried?

Obviously the whole spectrum of new mutations should be investigated but in particular one of them (in position 681) gives us indications that the new variant is quite contagious. That may be the concern. We also have a total of 50 mutations in the new variant, 32 of which are in the spike protein. Therefore we have twice the number of mutations in the spike protein compared to the Delta variant.

– So it is not a more dangerous variant?

We do not know yet. We will wait for the data analysis in the coming weeks.

– Is it more contagious than Delta?

We do not know that yet either. If it is not, there will be no particular cause for concern.

– How will we know this?

The South African health authorities have an adequate network of epidemiological surveillance. They record the admissions to the hospitals (compared to Delta) but also the outcome of the treatment. So in the coming weeks we will know if the spread of the new variant is greater or not and how effective the vaccines are, in terms of preventing serious infection and hospitalization.

Do we know if the new variant affects the clinical picture of the infection?

No different or more severe symptoms have been reported so far.

– What effect does the new variant have on current diagnostic methods?

It seems that there will be no detection problem with the current rapid tests. Laboratory molecular tests are easily modified anyway once we have knowledge of the genetic sequence.

– What impact will it have on current pharmaceutical interventions?

We obviously do not have studies to get an idea of ​​whether vaccines are affected, but since vaccinated people who get infected do not have severe symptoms, we can remain optimistic. From the location of the mutations in the new variant, we can assume that there may be some reduction in the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies, but we have no further data. And let’s not forget that for the time being, the variant has been identified in less than 100 people.

– Will we have other variations in the future?

Yes. We have had hundreds so far and we do not know all of them. Only a few of them were important in the end, such as Alpha and Delta.

– Why do you say we do not know them all?

Because so far 80% of the identification of the virus changes has been done in the countries of North America and the European Union. Therefore, it is very likely that we had several variants in other areas that went unnoticed or that had little dispersion and insignificant effects.

– The companies announce that they will start the research for production of new vaccines.

They do well but this is certainly not going to happen immediately. It will take a few weeks (maybe 6-8) and then mass production and distribution. And of course mass vaccinations should follow. So we are talking about availability from spring onwards. But the problem and low vaccination rates in Africa and many Asian countries will remain. We therefore need a global vaccine availability policy at the same time, which I have been pointing out since March 2020.

– And until then what do we do?

The vaccinated people start and do the third dose first. Those who have not been vaccinated should be vaccinated immediately. We do not know if the new variant will prevail. But it is very possible to have adequate protection from existing vaccines, especially those who have done all 3 doses.

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