On the 28th, Italian scientists released the first image showing what the spike protein looks like in the ‘Omicron’ strain.
The ‘Omicron’ image completed in the complex laboratory of the Hospital pediátrico Infant Jesus in Rome shows the difference from the mutant ‘Delta’ virus that has spread.(*See photo below)
In the figure, the delta mutation has 18 mutated amino acid residues, whereas the ‘omicron’ strain has 43. The research team explained, “It’s not that more mutations are more dangerous, but that the virus has adapted more to humans and produced a lot of mutations,” the research team explained.
more adaptive to humans, forming more mutations
Amino acid residues mutated in the ‘Omicron’ spike protein are currently being analyzed in various ways to elucidate their ability.
However, as the mutation was discovered less than a month ago, it is expected that it will take some time for the identity of ‘Omicron’ to be fully revealed. What is known so far is the extent to which mutations are expected to affect characteristics such as contagiousness, disease severity, immunity to immunity, and ability to avoid treatment.
The most curious thing is the effectiveness of the vaccine. The question is whether the existing vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna can prevent infection of ‘Omicron’.
In this regard, the remarks of Professor Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, are drawing attention. He told the Guardian on the 28th that existing vaccines could be effective.
The ability of the mutant to spread depends on the ability of the ‘spike protein’ to protrude in the form of a bump on the surface of the virus. If the spike protein is more developed than the previous variant, it can propagate more easily than before because it can penetrate human cells better.
Professor Pollard said, “However, the 32 mutations found in the spike protein of ‘Omicron’ are similar in location to those of existing mutated viruses.” “This means that existing vaccines may be effective,” he said, adding that ongoing research is confirming the authenticity.
The reason why the professor’s remarks are attracting attention is because the ‘Omicron’ that appeared this time is different from the delta mutant virus that originated in India and spread to the world in the past.
This variant turned out to be much more contagious than the previous variants. After the WHO first discovered the delta, it took four months to classify it as a ‘variant of interest’ and two months later to classify it as a ‘variant of concern’.
On the other hand, in the case of ‘Omicron’, it took less than 72 hours to classify it as a ‘mutant of concern’, and Professor Pollard explains that this result is related to the location of the mutation.
There may be some advantages over delta variation.
Professor Christina Pagel, head of clinical research at UCL, also explained, “Omicron may have an advantage in defense compared to other mutants such as delta mutations.”
“We know that ‘Omicron’ has more mutations than other variants, and we know there are mutations that could be more infectious, etc., but what worries virologists and immunologists is the type of mutation.”
It is still unclear how threatening ‘Omicron’ is. Therefore, scientists are delaying the answer to how dangerous the ‘Omicron’ variant is. However, the doctor who first reported the symptoms said it was a ‘specific but mild symptom’.
What scientists are focusing on is securing data related to ‘Omicron’. BioNTech, which developed the Pfizer vaccine, said in a statement on the 27th that “more test data should be available within at least two weeks to determine if a new vaccine should be developed in the future.”
Biontech also said, “For the next six weeks, we have applied the existing vaccine to the ‘Omicron’ strain, and have taken measures to produce a vaccine as early as possible if escape mutations that avoid antibodies occur.” said.
According to the WHO, the first case of ‘Omicron’ infection was found in Botswana, South Africa. Later, a mutant was discovered in a traveler from South Africa to Hong Kong, and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NICD) in South Africa has since confirmed a number of positive cases.
Meanwhile, on the 26th, a case of infection was discovered in Belgium, health officials said in a traveler returning from Egypt. On the same day, Israel announced it had found a new mutant case in a traveler returning from Malawi.
As ‘Omicron’ spreads, governments around the world are taking restrictions, such as banning travel to South Africa. At the same time, there are concerns about whether another pandemic like the previous one will come.
But scientists are looking down on that possibility. Professor Pollard said, “Throughout alpha, beta, gamma and delta mutant viruses, it has been shown that the vaccine continued to prevent very serious diseases.”