Early evidence released on Omicron variant

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — Newly-released findings from Pfizer-BioNTech are providing the first glimpse into how effective the companies’ coronavirus vaccine is against the omicron variant. A lab study shows the vaccine may not be as effective in preventing infection from the variant when a person has only received the first two doses. However, a person was significantly more protected after receiving a booster shot.

“The early evidence would suggest that if you have a booster and are recently vaccinated, your antibody levels being higher is still protective against omicron, although less protective than previous variants that we’ve seen,” Dr. Phillip Coule, the Chief Medical Officer of Augusta University Health, explained.

However, Coule notes more evidence is needed. He says early findings suggest the vaccine may still protect a person from becoming severely ill.

“One of the things we want a vaccine to do is to lessen the severity of the illness or prevent severe illness or death. It still appears that this is true with omicron.”

There is still a lot that researchers are trying to learn about omicron. It has more than 30 mutations, which scientists believe may make it easier to spread. However, the mutations could be beneficial, according to Coule and Dr. Ravindra Kolhe.

“When we looked at the original virus, Alpha, Beta and Delta, they had this evolution where these viruses become a lot more aggressive purely because of in-selection in different populations,” Kolhe, the Director of the Georgia Esoteric & Molecular (GEM) Laboratory at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), explained. “But omicron has these very unnecessary, illogical mutations. We’re still trying to understand why these mutations happen because they’re not helping the virus be aggressive.”

“If the omicron strain were to displace the delta strain, that would actually be good,” Coule added. “Actually, that would help to establish more immunity from natural infection in the population without causing the severe illness and death that delta has caused.”

Omicron has been detected in Georgia. If it gets to the CSRA, the variant will likely be identified at the GEM Lab.

“We have the capacity, expertise and setup, which is required for sequencing, to identify these variants,” Kolhe said.

Kolhe says the lab gives the Augusta area an edge.

“Having this kind of setup in Augusta at MCG definitely puts us at an advantageous stage to have this kind of sequencing done for this virus and to identify them [variants] earlier so public health policies can be made.”

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