Valdis Bērziņš, “Latvijas Avīze”, JSC “Latvijas Mediji”
The new strain of coronavirus, omicron, was discovered in South Africa at the end of November with half a hundred mutations, including 30 changes in the protein peak that infect human cells and on which the majority of the covid vaccine is focused.
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Within a week, an omicron variant of the virus has already been discovered in a number of southern African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Although air traffic is banned from these countries, omicron has already reached other continents and countries: Hong Kong, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, USA, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Britain, Singapore.
Experts note that the large number of mutations allows the cytidovirus omicron to become caught in the tip of the protein and enter human cells to begin to multiply. Due to the large number of mutations, antibodies may make it harder to recognize the virus and make it less susceptible to vaccines, spread the infection and cause the disease to get worse.
The coronavirus omicron strain discovered by South African scientists, which was immediately reported to the World Health Organization, has given doctors a brief but very important time to assess its dangers. Experts believe that the existing vaccines will also be effective, but Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine manufacturers have already announced that they have begun developing a new formula for a support vaccine against the omicron strain of the virus.
Emera Cook, head of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has confirmed that the agency is ready to deal with the new South African or omicron variety of covidium. She said it would take two weeks to see if current covid vaccines could handle the omicron strain. If a new vaccine is needed to fight the omicron strain, it will take about four months to be approved in the EU.
“We are prepared,” Cook said to European Union officials, adding that EZA was already working with the medical industry to prepare for the possibility. “We know there will be a mutation at some point, which means we need to change our current approach,” she said.
Cook spoke with more confidence about the omicron strain than the World Health Organization, who warned that the global risk posed by the strain was very high and could lead to a sharp rise in the number of people with serious consequences.
More and more countries around the world are reporting cases of omicron or restricting air traffic as scientists try to find out how dangerous it can be. The highest incidence of omicron is found in and around the South African cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Cook pointed out that in Europe, where the population is older and vaccination coverage is higher, the situation could be different.
According to her, it is important to assess whether the vaccines currently available provide protection against the new variant. “It’s a process that can take about two weeks,” Cook said. So far, the vaccines have been effective against all the variants they have encountered, Cook said. She added that if the vaccines needed to be adapted, she could confirm that ESA was working with companies and other agencies to make sure “we are as prepared as possible”.