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Is the UK Ready to Fight Off Omicron Virus?



Omicron Virus

Omicron Virus: The year 2019 witnessed the emergence of a new virus that was previously known to a very limited number of people. Termed as SARS-Covid 2, the virus was first identified in Wuhan, China after which it quickly assumed the intensity of a pandemic that has continued to date.

The toll took on the health and life of people worldwide and continues to do is beyond repair. According to the WHO, the total number of people that have lost their lives to the virus is around 5,324,243. Vaccines act as prophylactic measures and reduce the intensity of the disease. But the disease can still occur despite vaccines and prophylactic measures.

What does it do to the Human Body?

The virus has spike proteins on its surface that attach themselves to the ACE-2 receptors of the human body and enter our system. Once inside it settles in the cells lining the nose, sinus, cavity and throat, it begins replicating. After paralyzing the defence mechanism of the body, it starts its inflammatory reactions on the vital organs of the body.

Usually, it is airborne and carried with droplets of mucus passed through sneezing or coughing. But recent studies have shown that contaminated surfaces like doorknobs and railings of stairs can aid in spreading the infection. The entire world is waiting on the results of clinical trials going on with Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine to see if these two medicines can become the possible cure for Covid infections.

What is a variant?

Every virus changes and evolves in time as it spreads among people. Every time a virus replicates, there is a potential for change in its original structure. The changes in structure are defined as mutations. A virus with more than one mutation is referred to as a variant.

The WHO had previously identified a few variants of the SARS Covid virus and nomenclature them on the basis of Greek letters for the purpose of simplification. Alpha, Beta Gamma and Delta were some of the initial variants of the Covid virus. The delta variant, popularly known as the second Covid wave, was previously identified as the variant of concern with preventive measures taken to limit the infection. This was until Omicron was identified as a new variant.

A word about Omicron

Omicron was first brought to the attention of the WHO on 24th November 2021. By 26th November 2021, it was declared a Variant of Concern. The variant of Concern is the term used for mutant variants that have an increased tendency for transmission and virulence.

In simple words, Omicron has the probability of increased transmissibility and severity with reduced chances of vaccine-induced protection from the severity of the disease. The Delta variant too has been declared a Variant of Concern. While delta has 18 mutations in the spike protein, Omicron has over 30 of them.

Because of this, it is conjectured to be more contagious than other variants. Additionally, the increased mutations allow more escape routes and make it more immune to vaccine-induced antibodies.

What is the current status of the Omicron virus in the UK?

There have been a total of 817 cases of Omicron variant identified in the UK so far. Omicron has established itself in the UK spreading as far as parts of Northern Ireland. West Northamptonshire and parts of London like Croydon, Hackney and Newham have been declared the most affected areas.

However, the true number of cases may be significantly higher than recorded numbers. A high number of Covid Markers i.e. unconfirmed cases has also been recorded. This has led to the ministry of the UK passing some stern measures like:-

-Introducing plan B restrictions in accordance with the Covid situation

-Covid passports (mandatory) in large venues with huge crowds

– Working from home

Are these enough?

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have warned that the UK will face a substantial wave of the Omicron virus should these rules not be taken seriously. According to health experts, Omicron is a big hindrance to the path of the virus that was slowly decreasing downwards from a pandemic and inching towards an epidemic.

Discussion is still ongoing regarding the impact it is going to have on hospitals. If the variant virus does accelerate in intensity, unvaccinated people, children and people with a poor immune response to the vaccine will be most hit by it. Hospitals and healthcare providers who are already overworked and exhausted will be further affected by the situation.

What do researchers have to say about this?

In a study conducted to research Covid’s Variants of Concern, it was found that households and contacts had a higher risk of transmission from Omicron in comparison to the Delta variants. Secondary attack rates were influenced by the improved ascertainment around Omicron virus’s positive cases.

The data quality of these studies was insufficient to adjust for the vaccination status or prior infection status of the contacts. The studies proved one thing: that the Omicron virus if it continues to grow at the current rate, can reach parity with Delta cases by mid-December and assume the proportions of a third wave.

What is the plan of action regarding treatment options?

There is no evidence of the fact as yet but preliminary analyses are indicative of a three to eightfold increased risk of re-infection with the Omicron variant. Research is still ongoing regarding the neutralization data from published international and internal UK studies.

But across the 5 preliminary live virus studies, there was noticed a 20 to 40 fold reduction in neutralizing activities by Pfizer 2 dose vaccine sera for Omicron virus compared to earlier strains. The activity was tenfold less as compared to the Delta response to the virus.

An even greater reduction in activity was noticed for the AZ 2 dose sera while for higher proportions of such sera neutralization activity was too less than the limit of quantification to provide satisfactory results. The mRNA dose resulted in increased neutralizing activity irrespective of primary vaccination type. There was also an increase in the proportion of samples above the limit of quantification.

Proving its superiority over the previous sera, most importantly, the early estimates of the vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection found significantly lower effectiveness against Omicron virus in comparison to Delta. But a moderate to high vaccine effectiveness was noticed in the period after a booster dose.

The common link all studies are pointing at

Britain’s health authorities have declared open bookings for booster vaccines. The NHS England has declared around 3.5 million English citizens out of a total of 7.5 million citizens of age group 30-39 years eligible for Covid booster vaccine.

This booster program since the day of introduction is accelerating at a rapid rate with more than 22 million people have received the booster vaccine before Christmas. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization with the health ministry have all urged people to come forward and get their booster vaccination.

All reports and analyses point out the effectiveness of booster vaccination against fighting the Omicron virus.

What is Booster Vaccination?

A booster vaccine is an additional dose of vaccine given to a person who has already completed the two doses of vaccination. It is designed to help people maintain their immunity for a longer period of time. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention usually recommends the booster if you have received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine dose two months prior.

People who have received both shots of either Moderna or Pfizer vaccine two months prior are also eligible for the booster dose. The FDA has authorised 3 vaccine boosters (Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson) and determined that it is safe to get any of these 3 booster doses even if you have taken a different brand in your initial dose. The NHS UK has included the following groups of people who are eligible for a government-funded booster dose

– People of age of 30 years or above with a health condition that makes them susceptible to Covid

– Frontline health and social workers with people living and working in care homes

– People aged 16 and over are the main carrier for people at high risk to Covid or who live with someone at high risk to Covid.

– Pregnant women and in the above groups are also included in the eligibility criteria

Is it the same as that of an additional dose?

An additional dose or a third dose is given to people with moderate to severely compromised immune systems to help improve their response to the initial vaccine. Before the advent of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, it was referred to as the third dose.

But the Johnson and Johnson vaccine being a single-dose vaccine, is now referred to as ‘additional dose’. It is different from the Covid-booster in the sense booster is given after completion of vaccine series but the additional dose is chiefly meant for immunocompromised individuals.

People undergoing active cancer treatment especially for blood, those having undergone an organ transplant or stem cell transplant and those with other immunosuppressive diseases like HIV or DiGeorge syndrome are eligible for the additional dose.

Take-Home Factor

Omicron Virus, despite the stir it has created, is new to the virus world with research ongoing regarding its pathways and a possible cure. Owing to the damage caused by the original virus and its variants, there are a lot of hyped news and unresearched claims circulating as a possible treatment regimen.

The UK has paved the path for research and treatment by introducing vaccines like Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna and Oxford. But the list of FDA approved medications is still very small. Even medications like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine are still permitted to be used only for clinical trials and not for public use.

Read more about Comparative Study on Ivermectin and HCQ. It is important to increase the supply of vaccines with their booster shots so more people can benefit from them. The government needs to conduct further research trials for newer drugs as a possible option along with spreading awareness among the public.

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