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Omicron variant puts spotlight back on safety

Omicron, which is the most mutated form of COVID-19 discovered thus far with 32 mutations to the spike protein, has scientists worried that the mutations may now allow it to evade existing vaccines and spread quickly.

Doctors and experts in India said that mutation was inevitable and the only protection the general public can offer itself was vaccination, use of masks and avoiding gathering. “This becomes vital as the mutations are manifesting symptoms previously not commonly seen with COVID,” they say.

Saumitra Das, director, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics and Professor of Indian Institute of Science, said that vaccination and following COVID-19 protocol was the only way to protect oneself. “It is too early to fully understand the extent of damage that this virus can cause. While vaccinations don't cut transmission it does reduce severity and number of subsequent deaths. It’s too early to understand the impact of this new mutation.’’

Vidya P. Taneja, senior consultant, pediatrics, Aartas Clinishare, Delhi, said that the new variant of coronavirus causing COVID-19 identified now as B.1.1.529 had put the spotlight back on global efforts towards controlling the disease and return to normalcy.

“This variant first identified in Botswana harbours a large number of mutations, including more than 30 changes to the original spike protein on which the COVID-19 vaccines were based and has been the main target of the body's immune response. Many of these changes have been found in the Delta and Alpha variants too and are linked to heightened infection rates and ability to evade antibodies induced by vaccines,” she said.

The doctor added that currently researchers the world over were closely tracking Omicron’s spread to determine its severity.

“Since transmission is through the same mode, that is airborne, preventive measures are the same. We need to, therefore, reinforce that all precautions should be taken as before. The importance of going full steam ahead with our vaccination efforts cannot be emphasised enough, especially seeing the situation in Europe where most cases are occurring in the non-vaccinated. Mutations are inevitable and the way ahead remains close monitoring, surveillance, community partnership and vaccine equity,” she said.

Stating that testing at airports should be increased and every international patients who had entered India in the last two weeks should be tested, Vikas Maurya, HOD and director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, said that there was no choice but to manage any eventuality like another spike. “But if it goes out of control then it will involve huge economic costs and overburden the healthcare system with increased mortality as well. A few cases will not affect us greatly,” he said.


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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 5:23:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-omicron-variant-puts-spotlight-back-on-safety/article37741890.ece

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