Covid: Expert warns ‘vaccine effectiveness is compromised’ by Omicron variant

Omicron: 'More breakthrough infections' says South African doctor

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Dr Tom Peacock, from the Department of Infectious Diseases, explained previous analysis on the molecular virology of Covid (SARS-CoV-2) informs current thinking. Looking at the constellation of mutations in the genome sequence of Omicron, Dr Peacock has made “educated predictions” about the impact the mutant strain is likely to have. “There are more mutations in the spike protein of the B11529 (Omicron) variant than in any other variant we’ve seen so far,” he said.

“Equally, these mutations are in positions on the protein that cause us concern.

“It looks as if they may compromise how well the antibodies we make after infection or vaccination can fight off the virus.”

Dr Peacock elaborated: “Most of what we know is about the spike protein of the virus – the target of vaccines.

“When our immune systems respond to the vaccine, they make antibodies that target different features on the spike protein.”

Dr Peacock explained to Imperial College London that this stops the virus from entering the cells, thus protecting people from infection and disease.

However, Omicron “appears to have mutations in all of the identified antigenic sites”.

The expert continued: “We would predict this could impact spike protein recognition by the vast majority of antibodies.

“When a person has fewer antibodies, or when those antibodies are less well able to bind to spike, we know that vaccine effectiveness is compromised.”

It’s for this reason that Dr Peacock predicts that Omicron “might be less well controlled by the vaccines” we currently have.

“However, it is unclear as yet how much the new variant may affect our vaccines,” he added.

Mutations in a region of the spike protein, known as the burin cleavage site, is associated with increased transmissibility.

Furthermore, another mutation in Omicron is associated with better binding of the spike protein to receptors of our cells.

In addition, Omicron has been linked to “increased fitness”, perhaps counteracting our innate immune response more effectively.

Such changes are deeply concerning, hence why more restrictions have been introduced into the UK.

From Tuesday, November 30, wearing face masks on public transport and inside shops became compulsory once again.

Appearing on ITV’s Lorraine, on Wednesday, December 1, Dr Vicky said: “Preliminary data is showing that we are seeing more breakthrough infections.”

However, Dr Vicky believes the vaccines “will work against this variant”.

“It’s really important for people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” she added.

Dr Amir Khan, however, said it is “early days” to see how effective vaccines are against Omicron.

Yet Dr Amir still favours vaccination in order to help people to “clear this virus quicker”, meaning it has less chance to mutate further and to replicate.

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