Union Health Ministry on Friday released answers to a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, which was recently detected in southern African countries. The answers also highlighted whether there will be a third wave of Covid-19 in India or not.
The Omicron variant or B.1.1.529 was classified as a variant of concern (VoC) on November 26. “Omicron cases are increasingly being reported from countries outside of South Africa and given its characteristics; it is likely to spread to more countries including India. However, the scale and magnitude of rise in cases and most importantly the severity of disease that will be caused is still not clear,” the FAQ read on third wave concerns.
“Further, given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low. However, scientific evidence is still evolving, it further noted.
The Health Ministry’s FAQs define Omicron as “a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that has recently been reported from South Africa on November 24, 2021 called as B.1.1.529 or Omicron (based on Greek alphabets like alpha, beta, delta, etc.). This variant has shown a very large number of mutations, especially more than 30 on the viral spike protein, which is the key target of the immune response.”
It also mentioned, “WHO declares a variant as a VoC after assessment when there is increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.”
On the question of whether the existing vaccines will work against Omicron or not, the FAQ said that while there was no data to confirm that existing vaccines don’t work, some of the mutations reported on Spike gene may decrease the efficacy of existing vaccines.
“However, vaccine protection is also by antibodies as well as by cellular immunity, which is expected to be relatively better preserved. Hence vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and, vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial. If eligible, but not vaccinated, one should get vaccinated,” the FAQ underscored.
The FAQ stated that variants are a consequence of evolution and a virus will continue to evolve as long as it has the ability to infect, replicate and transmit. “Further, not all variants are dangerous and most often than not, we don’t notice them. Only when they are more infectious, or can reinfect people etc they gain prominence. The most important step to avoid generation of variants is to reduce the number of infections,” it noted.
It further suggested that people should take both doses of the vaccines, maintain social distancing and maintain good ventilation to avoid spread Omicron.
Meanwhile, the Indian government is closely monitoring the Omicron situation and issuing guidelines from time to time. Scientists and the medical community are working hand-in-hand for developing and deploying diagnostics, carrying out genomic surveillance, generating evidence about viral and epidemiological characteristics and development of therapeutics.
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