Study Shows Past COVID Can’t Prevent Omicron

South African scientists warn that re-infections among people who have already battled COVID-19 are more likely with the new omicron variant than with earlier mutants of the coronavirus.

The research team tracked re-infections in South Africa and reported a spike with an omicron that they did not see when two previous variants, including the highly contagious delta variant, moved around the country.

South Africa’s new COVID cases double in 1 day amid omicron

The results, published online Thursday, are preliminary and have not yet been scientifically reviewed. The researchers also did not say how many of the re-infections were confirmed as omicron cases and whether they caused serious illness.

But the timing of the re-infection spike suggests that the omicron “demonstrates significant population-level evidence of immunity evasion from a prior infection,” they wrote.

“In the past, the infection was used to protect against the delta, but now it is not so with the omicron,” one of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of the Witwatersrand, said in a World Health Organization briefing on Thursday.

The study also did not examine the protection provided by vaccination. Coronavirus vaccines trigger different levels of immune response, some to ward off infection and others to prevent serious illness if someone does become infected.

“We believe that vaccines continue to protect against severe disease,” said von Gottberg.

Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s head of emergency services, said re-infection appears in the nose but does not necessarily lead to serious illness, while vaccines usually help protect the rest of the body.

“The data we are really looking for will relate to the severity of the infection and whether vaccines will continue to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death,” Ryan said. “And right now there is no reason to assume they won’t. We just don’t have the details yet. “

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The newest variant was discovered just over a week ago by scientists from South Africa and Botswana, and is now found in many countries. Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious as suspected by some health authorities, whether it is causing more severe illness, and whether it might interfere with a vaccine.

But it is important to know what level of protection a prior infection provides, especially in parts of the world where most of the population has not yet been vaccinated.

What is this new COVID variant in South Africa?

The study suggests that “omicron will be able to largely overcome natural and likely vaccine-induced immunity,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, in a written response to the study’s findings. How much “is still unclear, although it is doubtful that this will constitute a complete escape.”

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