In a New York University laboratory, Ned Landau is developing an engineered version of the new Omron version of the coronavirus.
Landau, a virologist, is going to use this “pseudovirus” – which cannot infect humans – to understand how well the antibodies produced by the COVID vaccines can fight off different viruses.
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As the Omicron variant spreads around the world, scientists are racing to determine what kind of protection the vaccines provide against the new, highly mutated strain. In Landau’s academic labs as well as the lab benches of pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and Moderna, the researchers are hoping to get preliminary results soon.
These laboratory studies, called neutralization assays, will be among the first data available on how well vaccines against Omicron work, but experts warn they will be only one piece of the puzzle – not one that can be taken alone. Micron-specific vaccines are warranted to be used to determine what is new.
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“With the lab data we get in the next two weeks, I don’t think it will be enough to make a call” new vaccine,” Landau said. It is their expectation that the variant would be somewhat more resistant to vaccine-induced antibodies, because it has a greater number of mutations in the part of the virus to which the antibodies bind, called the receptor binding domain. Is.
“While laboratory data will tell you whether it is able to evade an immune response, it won’t really tell you whether or not we have to do anything about it,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, a professor of immunology at the University of Arizona.
He also expects that the antibodies produced by the vaccines will be less effective at binding to and neutralizing the oomicron variant. But this is not the only factor that needs to be considered; The beta version discovered in South Africa earlier this year also lacked neutralization, he said. But since it was not as permeable as the delta version, it never had a chance to gain a foothold for widespread spread.
The transmittance of the Omicron version is another part of the story one needs to gain a full understanding of the dangers of the version.
Trevor Bedford, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, is studying the outbreak of the Omicron variant in real time. According to preliminary calculations using data from South Africa, they estimate it could spread three to five times faster than the delta. Still, these are early estimates, and researchers will have a better understanding after analyzing data from other parts of the world.
What he will be focusing on most in the coming weeks is the number of people who have transmitted the virus by an infected person, a number that is affected by vaccination rates, past infections, testing and mitigation measures such as wearing masks. Is.
During the summer delta surge in the United States, that number was about 1½, he said. For the current Omicron surge in South Africa, it is about 2 1/2, which means that early indications are that the type may be more permeable. However, this number may be lower in other parts of the world with higher vaccination rates.
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Experts are also curious to see whether cases rise as the Omicron variant spreads, and whether it can overtake Delta to become the dominant variant worldwide.
Bedford also hypothesized that Omicron could cause a significant drop in antibody effectiveness, which could be as high as a twenty-fold reduction in neutralizing capacity compared to the original strain of the virus. This compares to a fourfold reduction for Delta and an eightfold reduction for Beta. However, these estimates are for two doses of the mRNA vaccine — the boosters will improve the antibody response against all types, he said.
And while protection against mild or moderate diseases may be reduced due to Omicron, protection against severe disease is likely to remain intact, experts predict.
“There is every reason to think that promotion will now be even more important than we realize,” Landau said. “Boosting broadens the antibody response to be able to bind to more different forms of the virus, so it has the effect of increasing protection against something like an oomicron.”
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