In the short time since the emergence of Omicron, the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant, many questions have arisen.
Is it more transmissible, how bad are the symptoms, and most importantly, will the vaccines protect against it? Until more data are available, there are no firm answers, but many are optimistic that vaccines offer at least some protection. Medical News Today investigated the current hypotheses.
The rapid development of vaccines gave hope that the COVID-19 pandemic might soon be under control.
In many countries, as the vaccines were rolled out, the virus abated. Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 reducedTrusted Source in countries with widespread vaccine coverage.
Then came the Omicron variantTrusted Source of SARS-CoV-2. This new variant of concern, whose scientific name is B.1.1.529, was first identified in South Africa, though it may have originated in Europe, according to data from the Netherlands.
Omicron is now spreading in several countries. A study, which was conducted in South Africa and released last week but has yet to be peer reviewed, suggests that Omicron can evade immune defenses, leading to reinfection in people who have recovered from COVID-19.
These findings add to concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in most countries may not be effective against the Omicron variant.
Vaccine manufacturers are cautiously optimistic. Oxford University, which developed a vaccine with AstraZeneca, has stated: “Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have con-tinued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease, and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different.
However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine if it should be necessary.”
Pfizer also sought to allay fears in a statement: “Pfizer and BioNTech are re-maining vigilant and constantly conducting surveil-lance efforts focused on monitoring for emerging variants that potentially escape protection from our vaccine. We are beginning to run neutralization tests on the new Omicron variant of concern and expect to have initial data in the coming weeks.”
“In the event that a variant emerges that escapes protection of our vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval,” the Pfizer spokesperson added.