PUNE: Scientists at the Pune-based Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) have successfully isolated the omicron strain of the novel coronavirus at the high-end bio-safety laboratory in Pashan. This step is important for assessing the vaccine’s effectiveness in thwarting severe disease, as well as for assessing natural infection-induced antibodies.
“The Omicron version of the virus, with all its signature mutations, has been isolated. This is a milestone achievement that will further facilitate the efficacy studies of the vaccine. In the next two weeks, we will be able to effectively measure the vaccine efficacy of Covishield and Covaxin against the new variant,” an ICMR official told TOI on Wednesday.
The exercise will also answer another important question: Will the new version overcome existing antibodies in people who have covided with the old strains? “Virus isolation is a significant achievement and knowing it is the first step. Now, we can conduct a neutralization study to assess the efficacy of Covaxin and Covishield-induced antibodies and natural infection-induced antibodies against the Omicron lab-grown strain,” the official said.
A neutral study is the best method to assess the effectiveness of vaccination and the likelihood of re-infection. Through this, scientists will be in a position to compare the level of neutralizing ability of vaccine-induced antibodies and natural infection-induced antibodies against older strains (such as delta) and newer omicron variants. Another virologist said, “And beyond cell culture experiments, the protective potential of vaccine-induced as well as natural infection-induced antibodies can now be studied in animal models against omicrons.”
Any type of infection with SARS-CoV-2 triggers an immune response against the virus as a whole, not just parts of it like ‘spikes’. This is why many experts believe that the mutation is unlikely to significantly affect the protective shield.
The spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 contains 1,273 amino acids that trigger an immune response. The new Omicron variant contains 32 amino acid changes or mutations in the S protein. Therefore, the notion that vaccines would provide some protection against the new strain seems logical, experts have said.