Since its discovery in southern Africa in November, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread across the world, bringing with it new fear, new social restrictions and another chaotic and anxious winter.
The new strain led to rising infection rates over Christmas and New Year, with the UK hitting a single-day pandemic peak of 218,724 cases on January 4, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
However, at this early stage in its development, much is still unknown about the highly transmissible variant, and more clinical data is needed to determine exactly how it attacks and how it responds to our existing suite of vaccines, which work so well against previous ones Tribes have worked and helped keep hospital admissions and deaths down.
Early studies have shown that a booster shot is crucial to stopping Omicron, which is why governments around the world have been urging their citizens in recent weeks to urgently queue around the block for a third shot.
Just before Christmas, scientists reported that a booster shot elicited a response from the body’s immune system to the virus in two to three days, not weeks as previously thought, quickly activating memory T and B cells responsible for hunting down infection and the production of antibodies.
“The immunity generated after a booster dose will rise much faster than the initial immune response,” commented Gary McLean, Professor of Molecular Immunology at London Metropolitan University.
Another interesting new study at Oregon Health & Science University has since shown that it might actually be possible to develop “super immunity” to Omicron if patients who have contracted Covid-19 have received two doses of either vaccine .
The study looked at the blood of 26 people who had developed so-called ‘breakthrough’ infections of Covid after a double dose of vaccination and found they developed antibodies that were up to 1,000 percent more potent and more common, creating a form of super- immunity, according to the researchers.
While the vaccines are obviously designed to prevent recipients from contracting Covid in the first place, it’s still possible for the more harmful strains like Delta and Omicron to slip past the body’s defenses.
In the cases of the double-bitten subjects included in the study, this event proved surprisingly beneficial, boosting the robustness of their immune systems.
“You can’t get a better immune response,” said the study’s lead author, Fikadu Tafesse, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the university’s School of Medicine.
“These vaccines are very effective against serious diseases. Our study suggests that people who are vaccinated and then exposed to a breakthrough infection have superimmunity.”
His colleague Marcel Curlin was even more optimistic about the impact of the study, commenting: “I think that speaks to an eventual final.
“It doesn’t mean we’re at the end of the pandemic, but it does indicate where we’re likely to end up: once you’re vaccinated and then exposed to the virus, you’re likely to be reasonably well protected from future variants.”
“Our study implies that the long-term outcome will be a lessening of the severity of the global epidemic.”
The researchers haven’t had a chance to test their findings specifically against Omicron, but say they underscore the importance of vaccination to ensure your body has a “base of protection” against the virus.