Home / News / India /  ‘Will take two to four weeks to understand severity of omicron variant’
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MUMBAI : It will take at least two to four weeks to understand the severity of the omicron variant as scientists and regulators around the world decide to culture the new strain to ascertain its infectiousness.

At a high-level meeting organized by the World Health Organization’s international standard and reference panel on Monday, scientists and regulators across the world discussed ways to determine whether the new variant is immune to vaccines and how severely it affects an infected individual, according to a senior scientist who was present at the meeting.

The meeting, which was attended by regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration, infectious disease experts from South Africa and the UK, shared the limited findings of the new variant. The African Health Research Institute led by virologist Alex Sigal will run these studies to determine variant escape immune responses.

“It’s still too early to tell. We are outgrowing the virus and will be ready to test against convalescent plasma and vaccine samples in 10 days", Khadija Khan of AHRI (African Health Research Institute) told Mint in an email response.

Scientists try to determine whether the variant escapes from the immune response, to determine how infectious a variant is. This is done by culturing or growing the virus in a lab and comparing it with samples from infected individuals, those who are recovered from the infection, and those who are vaccinated.

“Reports that say the new variant is “highly infectious" is speculation as we can determine that only after the virus is cultured in labs and we run neutralizing assays", said the scientist who did not wish to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Then a study is done to measure antibodies to covid-19 and this is compared to a ‘control’ sample and samples from individuals who have been vaccinated. This will show whether a variant is more infectious than its predecessor. It will take at least two weeks and with a travel ban perhaps more as samples need to be transported from South Africa to countries/labs that want to run these assays.

“The basic understanding that exists about the variant right now is that it might replace Delta as the dominant strain, but the symptoms, treatments, and prevention (ie vaccine effectiveness) will not change drastically’, said the above scientist. Adding that preliminary studies show that the variant leads to mild symptoms in young people ie those under the age of 50. “What needs to be seen is how the variant might impact the immunocompromised individuals".

Even as the speculations and panic grow on the new variant pharma companies working on diagnostics, treatment and vaccines have said that their products will work against omicron. BioNTech/Pfizer has said it will take 100 days to manufacturer the new batch of the vaccines, Moderna also said that it is prepared to develop vaccines that are variant proof. The University of Oxford (that developed AstraZeneca) said that there was no evidence yet that the new variants are resistant.

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