Ever since the new Covid variant Omicron was discovered by scientists in South Africa, countries across the planet have been on a red-alert mode. In the aftermath of fear-mongering tactics by the lobbyists of the big pharma companies, the state governments have begun imposing hard lockdowns and night curfews. This will eventually reflect badly on India’s economy. However, this can be avoided. Given the low severity of disease and effective vaccines in place, lockdowns are not needed anymore.
Numbers of cases high, the severity of disease low
Reports have confirmed the silver lining of the Omicron variant as the numbers of severe cases and hospitalizations are low in comparison to cases of the delta-dominated third wave. The data is indicating towards a new but less worrying chapter of the pandemic.
Monica Gandhi, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco, reported, “We’re now in a totally different phase. The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic.”
The reports also suggested that “A combination of widespread immunity and numerous mutations have resulted in a virus that causes far less severe disease than previous iterations.”
The panic was mainly because of the Omicron’s large number of mutations, most of which are on the spike protein, that helped invade host cells. Those mutations not only allowed the virus to easily infect unvaccinated people but also to evade antibody responses from both previous infections and vaccines.
Earlier as reported by TFI, Barry Schoub, chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines in South Africa echoed Dr Coetzee’s sentiments and remarked, “The cases that have occurred so far have all been mild cases, mild-to-moderate cases, and that’s a good sign.” He called the Omicron variant a blessing in disguise as “it could very well push out the much more dangerous and more stable delta strain”.
Factors making Omicron less severe
Since it is now proved that Omicron is less severe than previous waves of Covid-19, one must know the factors making it less infectious. Covid infections usually start in the nose and spread down the throat and if it is a mild infection, it doesn’t make reach farther than the upper respiratory tract. The more severe symptoms occur when the virus reaches the lungs.
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However, a series of studies have suggested that the variant does not infect the lungs as easily as previous variants.
Wendy Burgers, an immunologist at the University of Cape Town, said, “It used to use two different pathways to get into cells, and now because of all the changes to the spike protein, it’s preferring one of those pathways. It seems to prefer to infect the upper respiratory tract rather than the lungs.”
Thus, resulting in less severe infection, but more transmissibility as the virus replicates more often in the upper respiratory tract.
While Omicron has the ability to evade the attacks of antibodies, it fails to avoid the second-line defenses of vaccines and prior infections: T-cells and B-cells.
Futility of night curfews
Witnessing the surge in cases of Omicron, the state governments have imposed night curfews. However, these night curfew will not contribute in decreasing the cases as the activities occurring during the night merely affects covid cases. Though the governments have called for restrictions and night curfews in states, it was the Centre who had said during the second wave that lockdown has minimal effect in stopping the transmission, and called for better containment strategies.
A new phase of the pandemic but vaccines to the rescue
With Omicron, India has entered a new phase of the pandemic but thanks to the vaccine, vast immunity is being achieved. India has the best vaccines, be it COVAXIN or Covishield. COVAXIN has been manufactured using a live virus, that is, using a manufacturing process that has been used in childhood vaccines for polio and other diseases, for decades. Compared to other publicly available data, it shows the best neutralization titers against variants of concern – Delta and Beta, and even outperforms on those measures compared with people previously infected with the original COVID-19 strain.
Immediately after receiving a much-delayed Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approval from the WHO, even the highly dubious medical journal Lancet had stated that the made-in-India vaccine is 77.8 per cent effective against symptomatic Covid-19 infections, as demonstrated by the phase 3 data.
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The efficacy data demonstrated 70.8 per cent protection against all variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. More importantly, the vaccine showed 93.4 per cent efficacy in severe symptomatic cases. The medical journal added that no severe-vaccine-related deaths or adverse events were recorded during the randomized trials.
While the Omicron variant might not be as lethal as a few alarmists had predicted it to be, the general public is still advised to err on the side of caution. Continue to mask up when outdoor, especially in public places, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. However, lockdowns are not required anymore as the Omicron variant will not have any deadly consequences. But, it will surely affect India’s economy, which the country cannot afford at this time.