Covid-19: Omicron, a legitimate concern

November 29, 2021

Does the SARS-CoV-2 variant called Omicron represent a real danger? Since November 26, it is in any case considered “worrying” by the World Health Organization (WHO). Update with Sandrine Sarrazin, Inserm Research Officer at the Marseille-Luminy Immunology Center (CIML – Inserm / CNRS / AMU).

“Until now, no variant has accumulated so many mutations”, says Sandrine Sarrazin. Indeed, Omicron “ has a little more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the key to entering the virus into the cell, of which twenty have never been seen before ”, she continues. And in addition, “The already known mutations are the sum of those observed on Alpha, Beta and Delta”.

This explains the legitimate concern of the scientific community, as well as of countries which have already taken additional restrictive measures. Among these countries, France notably announced the suspension “Flights from seven southern African countries (South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe) until December 1”.

“The most disturbing variant ever seen”

If worry makes sense, “We must wait for the results of studies currently being carried out in vitro to verify whether the antibodies generated in vaccinated persons still block the entry of the virus into cells or not”, moderates Sandrine Sarrazin. Simply reading the genome does not tell us. The first results should arrive quickly, within a fortnight. It is nevertheless the “The most disturbing variant we have ever seen”, she concedes.

Fortunately, even in a worst-case scenario (a more contagious, more dangerous variant that escapes the vaccine), “We are fortunate to have mRNA vaccine manufacturing platforms that will allow the creation of a new vaccine formula in just 6 weeks”, underlines Sandrine Sarrazin. Then, in just 100 days (a little over 3 months), the laboratories will be able to produce and distribute it on a large scale.

While waiting for the results of the studies, “It is very important to do the 3rd booster dose”, she concludes. This increases the level of antibodies in the blood and the chances that some of them will block or slow down the new variant.

  • Source : interview with Sandrine Sarrazin, Inserm Research Officer at the Marseille-Luminy Immunology Center (CIML – Inserm / CNRS / AMU) – Ministry in charge of health – WHO

  • Written by : Dominique Salomon – Edited by: Emmanuel Ducreuzet

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