The variant, identified in South Africa and Botswana, lands in Europe: what we know
The African variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) bursts onto the scene of the covid pandemic. What is its danger? How contagious is it? Does the vaccine hole? Initially identified in South Africa and Botswana, Omicron becomes an unknown at the international level: a case has been found in Belgium. Spotlight on Hong Kong and Israel amidst many questions that, in the absence of data, are not easy to answer at the moment. The symptoms, according to information from South Africa, do not appear to vary from those produced by the Delta variant. It is too early to talk about vulnerable vaccines, although Pfizer and Moderna are ready to develop updated versions of their drugs.
The Omicron identikit is outlined by the WHO, which has ‘promoted’ the variant to ‘concern’ status. Variant B.1.1.529 was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November. The epidemiological situation in the country was characterized by three distinct peaks in the reported cases, the last of which was mainly from the Delta variant.
In recent weeks, however, “infections have increased dramatically – the WHO note reads – coinciding with the detection of variant B.1.1.529. The first known confirmed infection from B.1.1.529 came from a collected sample on November 9, 2021 “. The data suggest that “Omicron may have a growth advantage” and therefore be more contagious, “in addition to the aforementioned higher risk of reinfection than other variants of concern.”
The African covid variant was detected in just over 80 samples according to data provided by experts from African CDC centers. What is worrying is the presence of more than 30 mutations in the Spike protein region alone, responsible for the entry of the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 into human cells. “The variant B.1.1.529 shows more mutations in the genome of the virus”, reiterate the experts of the African CDC. “Some have been detected in earlier variants, such as Alpha and Delta, and have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion.” In other words, clues abound about the increased contagiousness.
Many of the other mutations identified, however, the Cdc point out, are not yet well characterized and have not been identified in other variants currently in circulation. Further investigations are therefore underway to determine the possible impact on the ability of the virus to spread more efficiently, to affect vaccine efficacy and evade the immune response, and to the ability to cause more severe or milder diseases.