According to WHO, the first sample of the Omicron or B.184.108.40.2069 lineage was taken on 9 November. This was seen due to the increase of cases in South Africa.
“This new version, b.1.1.529, appears to be spreading very quickly!” Tulio de Oliveira, Director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, South Africa, and a genetics researcher at Stellenbosch University said on Twitter.
In addition, genetic sequencing showed that it carried a large number of disturbing mutations on the spike protein – the knob-like structure on the surface of the virus that it uses to hold onto infected cells.
Some of those mutations were already identified with other variants and were known to make them more dangerous, including one called E484A – a slightly altered version of the mutation called E484K that made the virus less recognizable to certain antibodies. Immune system proteins that are a front-line defense against infection and which form the basis of monoclonal antibody treatment.
It also contains a mutation called N501Y, which gave both alpha and gamma their increased transmittance. Just last week, Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch and his colleagues Reported in the journal Nature That this particular mutation made the virus better able to replicate in the upper airways – think nose and throat – and more likely to spread when people breathe, sneeze and cough.
Like Delta, Omicron also has a mutation called D614G, which helps the virus better attach to infected cells.
Dr. Peter English, former president of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine, said: “The number of mutations does not necessarily mean that the new variant will cause any problems, although it may make it more likely to appear different from the immune system. ” The committee said in a statement.
What worries scientists is the number of mutations affecting the spike protein. This is because most major vaccines target the spike protein. Vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and other companies all use small fragments or genetic sequences of the virus and not the whole virus, and they all use bits of the spike protein to elicit immunity. do for So a change in the spike protein that made it less recognizable to immune system proteins and cells stimulated by the vaccine would be a problem.
So far, there is no evidence that this has happened but there is no way to know just by looking at the mutation. Researchers will have to wait and see if Omicron causes more breakthrough infections than other types.
The second fear is that the mutations could help make the virus less sensitive to monoclonal antibody treatment. However, the WHO says it is unlikely that these mutations will affect other COVID-19 treatments, including the antiviral drugs in development and the steroid dexamethasone.
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