Vaccines may be effective against the Omicron variant, says Gagandeep Kang

Travellers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant Omicron. Photo: AFP/Phill Magakoe

New Delhi: Noted virologist Gagandep Kang says that a majority of the population has already been infected and recovered from COVID-19. She added that the antibodies from the vaccination could safeguard India from the potentially threatening Omicron variant of the virus. In an exclusive interview with Manorama, Dr. Kang tells about concerns regarding the Omicron variant.

Why is Omicron considered a variant of concern?

With over fifty mutations, Omicron is the most heavily mutated version of the virus. It has over 30 mutations in the spike protein that help the virus affect the human cells. Some of the mutations in the Omicron were also detected in the Beta variant too. That was how the Beta variant had evaded the vaccine immunity. Besides, the mutations that had made the Delta variant extremely contagious have been spotted in the Omicron variant too. There are 26 new mutations in the spike protein of the latest variant. These are some of the factors that raise caution.

What are the various concerns that India has about Omicron?

The severity of the infection, its ability to beat the immunity and its swift spread are the three areas where India needs to be careful. If these happen, then Omicron could start another wave in the country. However, there is no such situation right now. This variant could be extremely contagious. However, there aren’t many studies about its severity. Moreover, there isn’t information about how it would affect the vaccinated people. The only option left is to wait and watch.

Is India prepared enough to fight it?

The government’s instruction to make testing and genetic sampling mandatory at the airports is appropriate. However, it could only delay the entry of Omicron in India. It is vital to understand that you cannot stop it completely.

Is travel ban an appropriate measure?

It alone is not enough.

Can vaccines like Covishield and Covaxin effectively prevent it?

More studies are required to know whether Omicron can evade the anti-bodies from Covishield and Covaxin. 

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