Omicron: Vaccines may partially work against new COVID variant, says ex-ICMR scientist Dr Gangakhedkar

Amid growing concerns over Omicron, former Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) scientist Dr Raman Gangakhedkar said News18 That vaccines may provide only partial protection against the new ‘heavily mutated’ version of SARS-CoV-2.

The epidemiologist, who was the face of the country’s top medical research agency during a government briefing on COVID-19 last year, said monitoring the new version, which was detected in southern Africa’s Botswana, is again difficult for the government. There will be no- as before in testing, tracing, tracking and isolation.

Gangakhedkar stressed that the public has an important role to play by following the basic rules of wearing masks, maintaining hand hygiene and maintaining social distancing.

“Omicron is going to hunt down everyone who is vulnerable or non-vaccinated,” he told

“Everyone should try to protect themselves from the virus and not provide an opportunity for the virus to enter inside their body, replicate and thus move on.”

Each time the virus reproduces, it involves the risk of producing more defective copies that contain the mutation, he asserted, stressing that “Indians should take both doses of the vaccine as an urgency.”

New one coronavirus The variant – B., officially named Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO) – is known to carry 50 mutations in total, including more than 30 on the spike protein alone.

According to Gangakhedkar, who is involved in prevention and control strategies against the HIV epidemic in India, the spike-protein and antibody share a connection between the sword and its cover. Therefore, changes in the spike protein may reduce the efficiency of the antibody.

The antigen is like a sword and its cover is like that of an antibody. “There are two ways for our bodies to produce antibodies, one produced through vaccines while the other is produced through natural infection,” he explained.

Antibodies work by neutralizing the virus. “But here the spike protein isolates can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and the vaccines may provide partial protection.”

Changes in spike protein may ease monitoring

While there is a fear related to changes in the spike protein because the mutations are “large in number”, Gangakhedkar, who retired from ICMR last June, said, “The monitoring advantage is the difference between the omicron and the other variants can be seen from RT.” Can do- PCR test only.

“The RT-PCR test searches for the presence of three genes. If 2 of the three genes are found, the result is COVID positive. The spike protein gene(s) will not be detected in RT-PCR in the omicron and alpha variants. So only 2 genes out of three will be positive,” he added, adding that “all positive samples where only 2 genes are found should be sent for genome sequencing instead of sending all samples.”

The new strain has been red-flagged by scientists because of the dangerously high number of mutations, in the hope that heavy mutations could make the virus more resistant to vaccines, increase transmittance and cause more severe symptoms. can. However, the former ICMR scientist believes that theoretically, viruses mutate to emerge in more transmissible but less virulent versions. “They theoretically want to continue their lineage by keeping the host alive and infecting as many people as possible.”

There is some uncertainty with regard to the severity or harmfulness of the virus – as most of those who get this type of infection are in the younger age group, he claimed.

“Younger persons, as it is, have less severe COVID disease. So we need to wait a few weeks for conclusive evidence about the virus.”

What should be done immediately?

According to Gangakhedkar, the government needs to immediately accelerate vaccination coverage among those who have not yet received the “first dose” of the Covid-19 vaccine or the second dose.

“Awareness of taking the second dose on time should also be increased. India A strong campaign is needed to make it clear that vaccines work well with the full dose and not the partial.”

Given the daily number of infections in the country, this is the right time to start aggressive testing, tracking and tracing. “The health system is under minimal stress due to Covid-19. Although we need to isolate those with the Omicron strain immediately, it would be good to assume that each infected individual may have an Omicron variant and expedite subsequent strategies.

There is no need to impose extreme measures like lockdown. “Some countries that are opting for a lockdown are already seeing a huge load on their health infrastructure due to COVID-19 and cannot afford to increase the load further. In India, matters are under control and I see no need to take extreme measures. We just need to go back to basics.”

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