Omicron: Vaccination should work but travel restrictions has limited benefits, says south African expert

Current vaccines will continue to provide protection against the new virulent SARS-CoV-2 strain, Omicron, said a leading virologist in South Africa, where the strain was first identified.

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Breakthrough infection in vaccinated individuals is expected to be mild but cannot always be so with the older age group.

Current vaccines will continue to provide protection against the new virulent SARS-CoV-2 strain, Omicron, said a leading virologist in South Africa, where the strain was first identified. Jeffrey Dorfman, Associate Professor in Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University, researching HIV and other infectious diseases finds the vaccine effective against severe Covid-19 or death from it.

Why vaccines can be still effective

According to Dorfman, vaccines act on the T cells that can recognise any part of the virus, as opposed to neutralising antibody that works on spike protein and its receptor-binding domain. Since a lot has not been found about the variant, it cannot be concluded still that it has immune evasion properties. The results will be known in the next few weeks.

Dorfan further said that since only a few people have been infected with the Omicron variant, it is too early to find out to what extent vaccination is effective and if immunity acquired from the previous infection can prevent infection by this variant and having more virus around might prove to be dangerous.

On breakthrough infections

Breakthrough infection in vaccinated individuals is expected to be mild but cannot always be so with the older age group. As vaccination target the older population, the younger average group gets infected, and as any variant gets contagious the ones who didn’t get infected recently catch the infection early. What is seen with the new variant so far is the same and nothing more yet, Dorfan said.

On mutations in combination

Detailing about its multiple mutations, Dorfman said, that almost all of the range of mutations has been seen before but not all together in one variant before.  This characteristic can reduce the protection of vaccines and make them spread quickly, but there is not enough evidence to establish all these properties, he added.

On imposing travel restrictions as precautionary measure

Dorfman finds restriction can curtail spread but it is probably too late now as early estimates suggest that Omicron started infected between mid-September to mid-October when there was less surveillance. Although most cases are from South Africa, a short-term traveler in Egypt who returned to Belgium had it, causing worry that it might have already spread in other parts of the world.

Citing the case of delta variant, Dorfman said that travel restrictions have limited benefits and can only delay the spread of the infection to speed up the rate of vaccination.

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