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Vaccination Efficacy and Prevention - Omicron Variant

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In the wake of rising cases of Omicron worldwide, read the article to know the symptoms, risk assessment, vaccination efficacy, and current clinical trials.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. P. C. Pavithra Pattu

Published At January 29, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 1, 2023

Introduction:

The World Health Organization announced the spread of a new variant of concern, the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), on November 26, 2021. Cases of this variant were first recorded in South Africa. Although the severity of disease produced by the omicron variant is less, it has a rapid-spreading rate.

Why Does Omicron Cause a Rapid Surge in COVID Cases?

According to the ECDC (European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), the probability of the emergence and spread of Omicron remains high currently given its numerous mutations in the spike protein component.

This variant's community transmission control needs effective public healthcare strategies in developing and developed countries. The main effort is to control and ramp up the vaccinations and booster doses effectively to the general public. Decisive action on behalf of the public healthcare system is an emergency now to alleviate the heavy burden of rising cases and protect the vulnerable and immunosuppressed population as well.

What Measures Help Control the Surge in Omicron Cases?

The following interventions need to be followed globally to prevent the rise of cases:

  • Appropriate use of face masks, particularly N95 masks, should be used by the public. The rate of spread of Omicron variants is relatively high compared to all other Coronavirus variants; therefore, wearing an N95 mask is essential. This is because an N95 mask filters about 95 % of the particles. A properly-fitted N95 mask offers the best protection as far as masking is concerned.

  • Teleworking.

  • Reducing crowding in public transport.

  • Staying home when an individual exhibits even symptoms of cold, flu, or fever.

  • Maintaining hand and respiratory hygiene.

  • Allowing adequate ventilation in closed spaces.

  • Ramping up vaccinations and booster doses to the public.

  • Rapid reintroduction and strengthening of non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce the ongoing Delta transmission.

  • Prioritizing contact tracing irrespective of the vaccination status.

  • Genomic surveillance and genomic sequencing.

What Clinical Symptoms Does the Omicron Variant Cause?

Symptoms of the Omicron variant would be the same as the other variants of the novel Coronavirus. Elusive research suggests that there will be no loss of smell or no loss of taste in those affected by this variant.

The main symptoms that clinically manifest need to be addressed immediately by the healthcare provider, and hence the given below signs need urgent medical attention in the current situation:

  • Weakness.

  • Nasal congestion or blocked nose.

  • Headaches.

  • Sore throat.

  • Fever and chills.

  • Cough.

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.

  • Runny nose.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Fatigue (may be of sudden onset).

  • Malaise.

  • Muscle aches.

  • Body pains.

What Does Research From Around the Globe Suggest About Omicron?

Research experts in the United Kingdom believe that the Omicron variant may not always produce similar symptoms as other strains of COVID infections. Flu-like symptoms should not be ignored and immediately reported to the healthcare provider.

According to scientists from South Africa, where the number of cases is on the rise and is most affected by this variant, they believe that the Omicron variant instead mimics the common cold symptoms, including sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, and headache. However, one new addition or an unlikely sign now associated is back pain. Backaches and, broadly speaking of body aches and muscle aches, myalgia symptoms are also indicative of seeking medical attention.

What Is the Efficacy of Vaccines Against Omicron and Delta Variants?

In recent studies and clinical trials, a comparative analysis of the impact of vaccination against the Delta and Omicron variants was studied. The efficacy of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine was analyzed against the Omicron variant, and computer models were developed for the same. The evidence in some participants that the efficaciousness of the Corona vaccine against Omicron is only 30 %, which is 87 % against the Delta variant, has prompted the researchers to consider Omicron a "variant of concern" and to find new generation vaccines (such as a needle-free vaccine) to combat the multiple mutating variants further shortly.

Though most of the public vaccines currently in use have indeed proved highly effective in preventing both hospitalization and mortality rates in vaccinated individuals against Coronavirus, the neutralizing antibody titers that are usually observed after a booster shot has been recorded comparatively in much fewer titers in response to Omicron

The current data suggest that Omicron escapes the neutralizing antibodies to some extent. In the case of double vaccinated individuals, the reduction in the neutralization is 10 to 20 fold compared to the 40 fold neutralization reduction in the case of the Delta variant. In people who have received two vaccinations and have still been infected, the neutralization level of Omicron was higher as well.

Can Vaccination Help Combat Omicron?

Vaccination, however, still would help an individual fight this new variant (86 % boost and protection against severe COVID disease). According to the NHS (National Health Service), after exposure even to foreign substances (the antigens), the antibodies continue to circulate in our bloodstream, protecting at least partially against future mutations or the antigens involved.

Studies have shown that a booster shot of the mRNA vaccine Pfizer or Moderna can aid the best protection against the omicron variant. With the administration of booster doses, antibodies present in the blood increase, thus conferring immunity against the infection of COVID-19 and its variants. However, the effectiveness of vaccines against the omicron variant is not much apparent; WHO claims that almost all vaccines developed for COVID-19 help reduce the disease severity and mortality rate.

However, in specific individuals, be it immunosuppressed individuals or patients suffering from systemic health conditions. In older individuals, even after a booster dose or vaccination, neutralizing antibodies may not always be present, making them susceptible to new infections by varying mutants of the strain. Hence social distancing and personal hygiene coupled with preventive measures for boosting personal immunity and caution would be encouraged more in these individuals.

What Do Laboratory Studies on Omicron Suggest?

On a positive note, the laboratory studies conducted for this variant still show the virus needs an attachment to the ACE 2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme) receptors just like the other strains of Coronavirus to infect human lung tissues. This at least is reassuring to an extent given that the current vaccines developed, even though fully not able to combat Omicron's mutation because of the spike protein changes, can still, to an extent, help prevent mortality or severe COVID infections.

Compared to the participants of clinical trials who were vaccinated by Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the neutralizing ability of the immune system against Omicron has seen a 40 fold decline which means the current vaccines may indeed be ineffective in boosting immunity against this variant. However, in people already infected by COVID infection and then vaccinated after that, the blood samples showed adequate neutralizing potential and good antibody titers against Omicron.

Conclusion:

Ramping up testing, genomic surveillance worldwide, and genomic sequencing can confirm infection with this specific variant. Hence if prior immunity remains elusive or cannot equip individuals against the new strain, the public healthcare systems should increase the rate of vaccinations, make people implement preventive measures, COVID appropriate behavior (CAB) socially, and enforce social restrictions. Contact tracing should be prioritized irrespective of the vaccination status of the individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Is the Efficacy Rate of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The efficacy rate of the COVID-19 vaccine varies depending on the specific vaccine and the study conducted. Overall, the vaccines have shown high efficacy rates in preventing severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19. For example, clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reported an efficacy rate of 95 % in preventing COVID-19, while the Moderna vaccine reported an efficacy rate of 94.1 %. It is important to note that real-world effectiveness may differ from clinical trial results, and ongoing studies are being conducted to monitor the effectiveness of the vaccines over time.

2.

Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Provide 100 % Protection?

No vaccine provides 100 % protection against COVID-19. However, the vaccines have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines reported efficacy rates of 95 % and 94.1 %, respectively, in preventing COVID-19. It is important to continue following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, even after getting vaccinated.

3.

What Is the Duration of Protection Offered by the Pfizer Vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to provide high levels of protection against COVID-19 for at least six months after the second dose. Ongoing studies are being conducted to determine the duration of protection beyond six months. It is also worth noting that booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been authorized for certain populations to help maintain protection against COVID-19 over time.

4.

How Effective Is the AstraZeneca Vaccine Against the Omicron Variant?

The efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the Omicron variant is still being studied, but preliminary data suggests that the vaccine may provide some level of protection against the variant. A study conducted by the University of Oxford found that the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant compared to previous variants, but still provided some protection against the variant. It is important to note that ongoing research is being conducted to better understand the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines against emerging variants.

5.

Is Pfizer More Effective Than Moderna?

There is no clear consensus on whether Pfizer or Moderna is more effective as both vaccines have shown high efficacy rates in preventing COVID-19. Clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reported an efficacy rate of 95 % in preventing COVID-19, while the Moderna vaccine reported an efficacy rate of 94.1 %. While the two vaccines use different mRNA technology and dosing schedules, they have both been authorized for emergency use by the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) and are considered highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

6.

Can a Person Still Contract COVID-19 After Getting Vaccinated?

While the COVID-19 vaccines greatly reduce the risk of contracting the virus, breakthrough cases can still occur. However, vaccinated individuals who contract COVID-19 are less likely to experience severe illness or require hospitalization. Additionally, studies have shown that vaccination can help reduce the spread of the virus and protect individuals who may be more susceptible to severe illness, such as the elderly or immunocompromised. It's important to continue following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, even after getting vaccinated.

7.

Are the COVID-19 Vaccines Still Effective Against New Variants?

The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines against new variants is an ongoing topic of study, as new variants of the virus continue to emerge. While some variants may be more resistant to the vaccines, preliminary data suggests that the vaccines still offer a degree of protection against new variants, especially in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. Additionally, vaccine manufacturers have been working to update their vaccines to better protect against emerging variants. It is important to continue monitoring the effectiveness of the vaccines against new variants and to follow public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

8.

How Does the Effectiveness of the COVID-19 Vaccine Change Over Time?

The effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine can change over time as the immune response to the vaccine gradually wanes. Studies have shown that the vaccines continue to provide high levels of protection against COVID-19 for at least six months after vaccination, but ongoing research is being conducted to determine the duration of protection beyond this time frame. Booster doses of the vaccine have been authorized for certain populations to help maintain protection over time. It's important to continue monitoring the effectiveness of the vaccine and to follow public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.

9.

Is AstraZeneca Used as a Booster Shot for COVID-19?

In some countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine is being used as a booster shot for COVID-19, particularly in individuals who received the AstraZeneca vaccine as their primary series. However, recommendations for booster shots vary by country and are based on factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and vaccine availability. It's important to follow public health guidelines and recommendations in your specific location regarding booster shots for COVID-19.

10.

Is It Necessary to Get a Booster Shot for COVID-19?

The need for a booster shot for COVID-19 varies depending on several factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and vaccine type. While the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine provide strong protection against the virus, studies have shown that the level of protection may gradually decrease over time. Booster shots have been authorized in many countries to help maintain protection against the virus and its variants. It's important to follow public health guidelines and recommendations in your specific location regarding booster shots for COVID-19.

11.

Do I Need a Third Dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The need for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, also known as a booster dose, varies depending on several factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and vaccine type. Booster shots have been authorized in many countries to help maintain protection against the virus and its variants, particularly in individuals who may be at higher risk of severe illness or have weakened immune systems. It's important to follow public health guidelines and recommendations in your specific location regarding booster shots for COVID-19.

12.

When Is the Best Time to Receive the Second Booster Shot?

The timing for receiving the second booster shot for COVID-19 varies depending on several factors such as age, underlying health conditions, and vaccine type. In general, booster shots are recommended several months after the completion of the initial vaccine series, but specific timing may vary by country and region. It's important to follow public health guidelines and recommendations in your specific location regarding booster shots for COVID-19 and to consult with your healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.

13.

Can a Person Contract COVID-19 Twice?

Yes, it is possible for a person to contract COVID-19 twice, although it is considered to be rare. The immune response to COVID-19 may vary from person to person, and some individuals may not develop long-lasting immunity to the virus after a natural infection or vaccination. Additionally, new variants of the virus may have different characteristics that make them more infectious or resistant to existing vaccines. It's important to continue following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, even after vaccination or previous infection to help prevent the spread of the virus.

14.

What Happens If a Person Only Receives One Shot of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

For two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, receiving only one shot instead of the recommended two shots may not provide full protection against the virus. The full recommended vaccine series is needed to achieve the highest level of protection against COVID-19. Incomplete vaccination may result in lower antibody levels and reduced effectiveness against the virus. It's important to follow the recommended vaccine schedule and to receive the full vaccine series to achieve the best protection against COVID-19. If you have received only one dose of a two-dose vaccine, you should speak with your healthcare provider or local health department to determine the appropriate next steps.

15.

What Should a Person Do Before Getting a Booster Shot for COVID-19?

Before getting a booster shot for COVID-19, a person should consult with their healthcare provider to determine their eligibility and discuss any questions or concerns they may have. It's important to provide accurate information about your medical history and any underlying health conditions to ensure that the booster shot is safe and effective for you. Additionally, it's recommended to wait a certain amount of time between the completion of the initial vaccine series and the booster shot, depending on the type of vaccine and other factors. Following public health guidelines, such as wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, can also help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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