South African scientists have warned that compared to earlier coronavirus mutants, the new omicron variant appears to be more likely to be reinfected in people already battling COVID-19.
A research team has been tracking the reinfection in South Africa and reported that with the arrival of omicron, they did not see the jump in the spread of the two previous variants, including the highly contagious delta variant.
The findings published online on Thursday are preliminary and have not yet been scientifically reviewed. The researchers also did not specify which parts of the reinfection were confirmed as omicron cases – or whether they caused serious illness.
But they wrote that the time of the peak reinfection showed that omicron “showed a large amount of evidence at the population level to evade immunity from previous infections.”
“Previous infections were used to prevent delta, but the use of omicron now does not seem to be the case,” one of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of Witwatersrand, said on Thursday Said at the World Health Organization briefing.
The study also did not examine the protection provided by vaccination. Coronavirus vaccines trigger different levels of immune response. Some are to fight off infection, and some are to prevent serious illness after someone is infected.
“However, we believe that vaccines can still prevent serious diseases,” Von Gottberg said.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s head of emergency, said that re-infections can appear in the nose, but they don’t necessarily translate into serious illnesses, and vaccines are often shown to help protect other parts of the body.
“The data we really want to see will revolve around the severity of the infection and whether the vaccine continues to prevent serious illness, hospitalization, and death,” Ryan said. “And now, there is no reason to think they won’t. We just haven’t got the details yet.”
A week ago, scientists in South Africa and Botswana discovered the latest variant, which has now been discovered in many countries. There are many unknowns about this new variant, including whether it is as contagious as some health authorities suspect, whether it will make people sicker, and whether it will hinder vaccination.
But it is important to understand how much protection the previous infection provides, especially in areas of the world where there are still large populations that need to be vaccinated.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said in a written response to the findings that the study showed that “omicron will be able to overcome natural immunity and possibly vaccine-induced immunity to a large extent.” Exactly how many “is still unclear, although it is questionable whether this represents a complete escape.”