Omicron appears to be up to 500 times more contagious and evades the immune system’s response from previous mutations, says the professor. Agnieszka Szuster-Ciesielska from the Department of Virology and Immunology at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin. The number of mutations, she added, made it known as a supervariant.
PAP: There was a slight panic in the scientific world, but not just there. Omicron has many more mutations than Delta, which is already significantly altered. In the new form, many of the mutations are concentrated in the region that interacts with the human cell.
a. Agnieszka Szuster-Ciesielska: Due to the number of mutations, Omicron is called the super variant. It contains 50 mutations, 32 of which relate to the S spike protein itself, and 10 involve changes in the direct recognition site of the human cell receptor by the coronavirus spike. All this means that the O variant may be so different from previous versions that it is recognized not only by cytotoxic cells and antibodies that arose after infection with previous variants of coronaviruses, but also after vaccination.
The three main questions that need a quick answer are: Is this variant more prevalent, more contagious, and is it able to circumvent our post-vaccination defenses and infect the previous variants. This new variant was first identified on November 11 in Botswana, then in Australia, Israel, and today we have it on the doorstep – in Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy. Is it already in Poland? It is only a matter of time. On the other hand, all those who have been identified with Omicron have recently gone to Africa and may have brought him from there.
PAP: The World Health Organization at its urgent meeting on Friday immediately classified Omicron as a variable of concern.
AS-C: This is the fifth variant, after Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, that deserves such a name. Now the whole scientific world will watch him closely, study him, because so little is known about him so far. We have oral reports from various scientists that it appears to be more contagious (up to 500 times) and evade immune system responses than previous mutations. But this requires research in larger groups. However, what bothers and confirms its high infectiousness is the fact that in South Africa, where it was started, Omicron has already begun to replace the delta variant. The first information from African doctors was published yesterday – the symptoms of the disease are relatively mild. Also, there was no loss of smell and taste in previous versions of the virus. This, however, still needs to be confirmed
PAP: Where did this Omicron come from?
AS-J: Well, there’s a hypothesis that it could have originated in someone with the coronavirus, which they couldn’t eradicate due to a weak immune system. This gave the virus ample time to mutate to avoid the host’s defensive reactions. As you know, many people in South Africa are infected with HIV, which weakens immunity. Perhaps it was in such a person that the virus could live longer. In any case, a similar hypothesis has been confirmed in the past with a beta variant that originated in the UK in a woman who had been carrying the coronavirus for several months. This is what gave the virus time to change.
PAP: When can this alternative dominate Europe? Its expansion appears to be very fast.
AS-J: That’s true, but please also note that the international community has been quick to react. Flights to and from Africa have already been suspended, and tourism has been drastically reduced. Israel was the first country in the world to completely close its borders to foreigners. Great Britain closed its borders to travelers from 10 African countries. British nationals returning from there must be quarantined for 10 days at a hotel designated by the authorities. Of course, it is not known whether all people with Omicron can be caught. We remember that this epidemic began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is also very far from us, but nevertheless this original type of SARS-CoV-2 virus spread quickly.
PAP: It’s important to me that the reaction of some countries is very exciting, like Portugal, which got rid of European passports – now, when someone wants to get to that country, whether it’s by air, land or sea, they have to submit Updated PCR test.
AS-J: As we’ve seen in the past with the emergence of the pandemic, countries have dealt with it in different ways, sometimes adopting very different strategies. In the first wave of the pandemic, Sweden’s example was widely discussed, focusing on so-called herd immunity resulting from the spread of COVID-19 by as many people as possible. How it ended, as we know, there have been a large number of deaths in this country, especially among the elderly. Recently, under the pressure of the fourth wave of the virus, some countries – such as Austria or the Czech Republic – tightened restrictions as much as possible, up to a complete lockdown. We will find out who was right at some point, although I am in favor of restrictions, for example enforcement of the Covid passport in Poland. I know it’s costly economically, but with money on one scale and human life on the other, I’d choose the latter.
PAP: So what, let’s feed? Let’s vaccinate our children? US studies show that the incidence of COVID-19 among younger people has increased by 32% in the past two weeks. And how is it in Poland? How many deaths were recorded in the age group up to 16 years?
AS-J: When it comes to Poland, I haven’t been able to find official reports on both cases and deaths among the younger ones. The American Academy of Pediatrics publishes reports on this topic every two weeks, and it is difficult for us to have such structured data. According to media reports, there are more and more such injuries and they concern young and younger children. The majority of patients in pediatric COVID wards are between 5-6 years of age, and many require oxygen support. As for the deaths, I’m also unable to give an exact number, but it seems there haven’t been many of them yet. This does not mean that there will be no more. Therefore I appeal to parents to take care of their offspring and vaccinate them.
PAP: Perhaps sometime in the middle of December it will be possible to vaccinate children in the 5-11 age group in Poland. Meanwhile, Pfizer said it is completing clinical trials of a vaccine for younger children — from the age of six months onwards. This research appears to have been satisfactory.
AS-J: I think this research will end this year. In fact, preliminary results show that vaccinations for young children are not only safe, but also give a very good response to the immune system. But at the present time, this information is provided by the media with this concern, so I am waiting for official data confirmed by the competent institutions. However, when it comes to vaccinating the 5- to 11-year-old group, I’m absolutely right.
Watching how quickly the Covid beds in the children’s wards are filling up, bearing in mind that children – unlike previous waves of the epidemic – are spreading the virus on others, including the elderly, I think they should be vaccinated. To protect them and their parents, grandparents, caregivers in nurseries and kindergartens, teachers in schools and thus protect the health care system from collapse.
PAP: But as we know, the vaccine also infects, and they can pass the virus on to others.
AS-J: That’s true, but we can’t get close to it at zero, because vaccinators clear the virus very quickly from the respiratory tract and after about two or three days they are no longer a danger to others. There have been three large studies on this topic – two in the UK and one in Spain. On their basis, it was shown that, however, vaccinations reduce the transmission of the delta variant, for example in families that are in the range of 27-63%.
PAP: That’s a huge discrepancy — between 27 and 63 percent.
AS-C: That’s true, but the results depend on the group of respondents, the country, the climate, and many other circumstances. However, what seems important to me is the fact that the research has been conducted in the so-called conditions of the house, that is, on people who are close to each other. So up to a maximum of 27 percent. This is a very good result.
PAP: Some universities have imposed an obligation to show covid passport to both their staff and students.
AS-C: So far, three universities have made such a requirement, which in my opinion is fundamental, especially when it comes to medical universities. As for the quarrel… well, I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to speak on a legal level. However, let me point out that for a long time in medical universities there is a requirement that no one has yet asked, that students who come into contact with patients must be vaccinated against hepatitis B (hepatitis B). Recently, we could conclude that the Ombudsman has a slightly different opinion on this subject, but I will stick with my opinion.
PAP: Universities in Poland are so completely independent that it is up to their president to decide what requirements they will impose on their staff and students.
AS-J: I also hold this position. My only regret is that it hasn’t been done sooner, in more colleges, which may have turned the current tide off a bit.
PAP: Some celebrities on social media, including doctors, are calling to refrain from vaccination.
AS-J: There have been a few cases in which medical autonomy has taken away the right to practice a profession for a specified period of time from people who have expressed such opinions – as opposed to scientific knowledge. However, in my opinion, people who are not doctors or scientists, like some lawyers, misinterpreting scientific works, declaring their harmful opinions on the Internet, are much more dangerous. I will not mention names or associations so as not to promote them.
PAP: And yet you are arguing with them, for example on TT.
AS-C: I realize that discussion with this kind of person is a failure – I can’t convince them with any scientific arguments. Moreover, some people still make money from their anti-science statements and from their popularity in the media. What drives me to act, to share my scientific knowledge on social media, is the hope that the readers of these publications will take something for themselves, and understand something. This often happens. It will keep them and us all safer.
PAP: What has been bothering you lately?
AS-C: Information that an investigation is underway against a doctor and a nurse, cases relating to Katowice and Warsaw, who were arrested trying to purchase SARS-CoV-2 vaccination certificates for themselves. This is an incredible thing. (PAP)
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