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'Omicron is Beginning of the End,' Says US Expert

'Omicron is Beginning of the End,' Says US Expert

Saturday, 29 January, 2022 - 07:15
People pose with syringe in front of displayed words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" in this illustration taken, December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

An expert at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center agreed with those suggesting the quickly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus and its mild symptoms could have a positive impact.

Like many others, James Crowe, professor at the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, believes that “with these characteristics, the new variant could be a secure way to train the immune system, help achieve a quick herd immunity, and pave the road for turning the virus from a pandemic to an endemic. “It’s a possible scenario and many experts support it,” Crowe told Asharq Al-Awsat.

But like many others supporting this likelihood, Crowe declines to predict the end of the pandemic, adding that “Omicron is the beginning of the end, but predicting the near future of COVID-19 is not easy.”

The Omicron variant is characterized with mild symptoms that don’t require hospitalization in most cases. However, it has 30 mutations in its spike protein, which reduced the efficiency of vaccines designed to fight the original strain of COVID-19.

According to Crowe, the vaccination efforts didn’t get back to square one, noting that “the available vaccines still activate antibodies to act against Omicron, especially after a third dose (booster) of any mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer-BioNTech.

Crowe underscores the importance of the booster dose, noting that it could help reduce the risk of serious illness when contracting the new variant.

The world’s vaccination efforts didn’t get back to square one after the emergence of Omicron, and so did the antibodies treatments used to protect people from the life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19, or from the infection itself.

Omicron’s mutations undermined the efficacy of many of these treatments, according to a study co-authored by Crowe and published on Jan. 19 in the Journal Nature Medicine. But, Crowe says some antibodies treatments are still efficient.

“The Sotrovimab drug is still important for infected people at high risk of severe illness, and so is the Evusheld for those at high risk of severe illness and cannot be vaccinated,” he explained.

Most of monoclonal antibodies used to protect people from serious illness after contracting COVID-19 are given through intravenous (IV) infusion. Evusheld is the only antibody compound administrated through intramuscular injections.

Only people who didn’t contract the virus causing the COVID-19 infection and suffer from an immune deficiency disorder or other conditions such as cancer, or those who have a history of bad reactions against COVID-19 vaccines, are eligible for Evusheld.

“It’s a good news that we still have at least one antibody treatment to use to prevent the infection or treat it,” says Crowe.

Speaking about the new strain of Omicron called BA.2 also known as the “invisible Omicron” because it cannot be detected through PCR tests, and whether it could weaken the responses of vaccines and antibodies treatment, Crowe said “the ferocity of this variant is not clear yet, and we don’t have enough data to determine whether it’s more resistant to vaccines and antibodies treatments or not.”

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