Connect with us

Health

Omicron could threaten COVID-19 immunity — but we're not going back to 'square one' – CBC.ca

Published

 on


The omicron variant, now reported in multiple Canadian provinces and a growing number of countries worldwide, could threaten hard-won immunity to the virus behind COVID-19.

But global scientists say the world has a crucial head start on the latest variant of concern, thanks to early detection. And there’s hope this highly mutated version of the coronavirus won’t bring the world back to “square one” in this pandemic.

South African scientists quickly identified and alerted the world to the variant last week, finding a concerning number of mutations that could potentially impact the effectiveness of vaccines, the transmissibility of the virus and even the severity of disease. 

Immunologists and virologists say that while it will still take time to determine the variant’s real-world impact, our immunity from vaccines and prior infection could take a significant hit if it takes off globally. 

“I wouldn’t say that this one’s going to put us back to zero,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona.

“But I do think that if it does spread, it’s going to be a bigger problem than any of the variants we’ve seen before.” 

30+ mutations in spike protein

Omicron contains more than 30 mutations in just the spike protein, the part of the coronavirus which helps it enter human cells.

Bhattacharya said while the mutations in the virus are concerning, it’s important to keep in mind that the immune system is “multi-layered,” and that protection from vaccines and prior infection against severe disease will likely still hold up against the new variant. 

“I think what we’ll see is, in all likelihood, a pretty big drop in how well antibodies work,” he said. “But then once we start to get some real-world studies into how things are doing, my guess is that the vaccines will still be doing a decent job in protecting people from getting really sick.”

WATCH | Will our vaccines protect us against the omicron variant? 

Will our coronavirus vaccines protect us against the new variant?

18 hours ago

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch responds to conflicting statements regarding the effectiveness of current coronavirus vaccines against the omicron variant. 2:16

Canada could actually be in a better position than other countries if omicron spreads more widely, Bhattacharya said, because our delayed second dose strategy provided “more optimal” immune protection in the population.

“What’s pretty clear is that that delayed spacing made a big difference in terms of antibodies and protection against delta — and I suspect it will be the same for omicron if it takes off,” he said. 

“We’ve seen some other variants like this in the past that had us concerned — beta, I think, would be the best example — and it didn’t really take off. It basically just got creamed by delta. And I think we still don’t know the answer as to how this is going to go for omicron.”

Several leading vaccine manufacturers have announced they’re keeping a close eye on omicron and could have new vaccines ready in mere months, if needed.

Moderna’s CEO has also suggested that existing vaccines may be much less effective against the variant, though scientists are still waiting on hard data. 

‘Worst features’ seen so far

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan, said while previous variants have had similarly troubling characteristics, the real scientific concern with omicron isn’t just the number of its mutations, but where they are. 

“Unfortunately, based on just the mutations, it looks like the omicron variant has some of the worst features of all of the variants of concern that we’ve seen thus far,” she said. 

“But it’s also really important to note for people that we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when all of these mutations get together, especially with all the other mutations that the omicron variant seems to have acquired.” 

Some of omicron’s mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility, similar to alpha and delta, she said, while others have been associated with higher immune evasion, like with beta and gamma. And she notes delta has so far dominated all other variants.

“One of my biggest concerns is not so much that omicron is going to be more severe, but if omicron begins outcompeting delta,” Rasmussen said. 

“Especially if it’s capable of causing more breakthrough infections that potentially could lead to another wave in many countries, particularly in the northern hemisphere, as we begin to go inside during the colder winter months and in preparation for the holidays.” 



Precautions will likely still work against variant

But as speculation about the variant spreads quickly alongside rising case numbers, experts say it’s important to keep in mind that vaccines, public health restrictions and personal precautions will likely continue to work well to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“The key right now is we have to stick to the toolbox that we have developed over the last almost two years,” said Dr. Abraar Karan, an infectious diseases fellow at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.

“The advantage that we have, any time we see a new variant, is we’re still dealing with SARS-CoV-2.”

If research confirms early signals that omicron is more transmissible, the usual principles still apply: It’s best to limit time in crowded indoor settings, and the use masking and increased ventilation to prevent the airborne spread of this virus. 

“Don’t enter into a situation that is likely to be a danger for high transmission, meaning many unvaccinated people not wearing masks,” said Rasmussen. 

WATCH | Canada watching omicron variant closely, Trudeau says: 

Canada is watching the omicron variant closely, Trudeau says

23 hours ago

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada may need to do more to control the new omicron variant. 0:24

With the holidays underway, Karan said it’s also crucial to layer precautions when gathering with family, like being fully vaccinated and adding in extra protections like mask-wearing — particularly around vulnerable groups who are at a higher risk of a serious infection.

“If you’re indoors, around a lot of people, you have to think: ‘Am I somebody, if I get COVID, is this very life-threatening for me?'” said Karan.

Wearing a high-quality mask, such as a KN95, would help stop aerosols or droplets from spreading, Karan noted, even if omicron proves more adept at latching onto human cells.

Unusual for variant to render vaccines ‘obsolete’

Multiple experts also agreed that what’s particularly crucial right now is for unvaccinated individuals to get their shots. 

“At the individual level, if people are not yet vaccinated, they absolutely should get vaccinated,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician.

There are also other ways to expand vaccination coverage, he said, including that children five and up are now eligible for inoculation, and the potential for booster eligibility to expand to more older adults. 

WATCH | What’s known about the omicron variant:

What’s known about the omicron variant

4 days ago

The World Health Organization has declared a new variant of concern called omicron, first identified in South Africa. Scientists say there are a large number of mutations in the omicron variant, which means it could be more infectious and cause more severe illness. 3:00

Even if omicron is capable of evading some level of immunity from the current slate of vaccines and antivirals, which targeted the virus’s original strain, Rasmussen doesn’t expect the variant to fully reduce vaccine-based protection.

“Your immune system is composed of more than just neutralizing antibodies, and we do have other antiviral therapeutics that are in the pipeline,” she said. “So we’re not back to square one.”

Until we know more about what we’re up against, Bogoch said we can’t assume the worst. 

“It would be extremely unusual for a variant to emerge that renders the protective benefit of vaccination completely obsolete,” he said. 

“This may be chipping away at some of the protective immunity, and we’ll figure out if it does and to what extent in the days and weeks ahead. But some people are discussing that this is going to set us back to January of 2020 — and nothing could be further from the truth.”

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Health

P.E.I. reports another COVID-19 death; 9 people in hospital – CBC.ca

Published

 on


P.E.I. has announced announced another death related to COVID-19, raising the province’s total to six.

The person was over age 80, according to a release from the Chief Public Health Office on Sunday. No further details were released about the death.

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 increased to nine as of early Sunday. One person is in intensive care.

Four other people in hospital for other reasons have also tested positive for the virus.

The province has declared a new outbreak at the Summerset Manor long-term care facility in Summerside. 

There are currently six long-term care facilities, two community care facilities, 19 early learning and child-care centres and five other congregate settings with outbreaks:

  • Andrews of Park West.
  • Atlantic Baptist.
  • Beach Grove Home.
  • Clinton View Lodge.
  • Garden Home.
  • Summerset Manor.
  • Bevan Lodge.
  • Miscouche Villa.
  • Nineteen early learning and child-care centres. Five open, six closed and eight operating at reduced capacity.
  • Population that accesses shelter and outreach services in Charlottetown.
  • Prince County Correctional Centre.
  • Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility.
  • Provincial Correctional Centre.
  • St. Eleanor’s House.

There are 209 new cases and 214 recoveries in Sunday’s update. On average, 279 cases per day have been reported over the last week.

P.E.I. has 2,484 active cases and there have been 6,125 cases since the pandemic began.

Hundreds of vaccination appointments are still available this week, according to the release, including dedicated appointments for children.

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Health

New Brunswick reports two additional deaths related to COVID-19 Sunday – CTV News Atlantic

Published

 on


Health officials in New Brunswick said Sunday that a person in their 80s in the Moncton region and a person in their 70s in the Bathurst region have died as a result of COVID-19.

HOSPITALIZATIONS

In a news release Sunday, public health reported there are a total of 126 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the province. Ten people are currently in intensive care.

Of those currently hospitalized, 74 were admitted for reasons other than COVID-19.

Of those in hospital, 101 are 60 or over, and six people are on a ventilator. Public health said Sunday that three people 19 and under are currently hospitalized.

The province said the rate of people hospitalized and in ICU continues to most greatly impact people who are unvaccinated and those who are over six months from their second dose.

PARENTS ENCOURAGED TO CHILDREN VACCINATED

Officials are urging parents and guardians to book a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for their child’s first or second dose if they have not yet done so.

Children aged five to 11 who have already received their first dose of the vaccine are eligible to receive their second dose once eight weeks have passed since their first dose.

“Children are expected to return to in-person school by the end of the month and will benefit greatly from vaccination,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health in a news release Sunday.

“I’m calling on all parents with kids in this age group to book an appointment now for their child’s first dose if they are not yet vaccinated, or for their second dose if they are eligible.”

BOOSTER SHOTS AVAILABLE

The New Brunswick government is encouraging those eligible for a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to book their appointment to help slow the spread of the virus.

Booster doses are available to everyone 18 and older, as long as five months have passed since their second dose.

To date, 62.3 per cent of the eligible population of people 50 and older have received their booster dose.

Appointments can be booked online at vaccination clinics offered through the Vitalité and Horizon health networks.

Many pharmacies across the province are also offering vaccine clinics. Appointments can be made by contacting a participating pharmacy directly.

Those unable to book an appointment online, or who otherwise need assistance booking through a health authority clinic or pharmacy, may call 1-833-437-1424.

Since Jan. 10, more than 44,000 appointments have been booked for booster doses of an mRNA vaccine.

LEVEL 3 RESTRICTIONS

New Brunswick is currently in Level 3 phase of the winter plan to manage COVID-19.

Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that vaccinating more children against COVID-19 and ensuring more adults receive their booster dose over the next week will help New Brunswick return to Level 2 of the winter plan on Jan. 30 at 11:59 p.m.

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Health

COVID-19: Tools to combat Omicron remain unchanged as province shifts pandemic strategy, expert says – Vancouver Sun

Published

 on


Wear a mask and distance in indoor public spaces, wash your hands often and stay home if you’re sick. Ventilation of indoor spaces is also important.

Article content

B.C. has changed its strategy on how it will manage COVID-19, shortening isolation times, tightening eligibility for testing and doing away with contact tracing.

Advertisement

Article content

The changes are taking place as the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant has exploded in B.C., but with evidence that it causes less severe illness in most people and a belief that the latest wave peaked earlier in January.

The changes have caused some confusion.

Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, say, however, that in the face of these changes, the tools to provide protection from infection have changed little.

Wear a mask and distance in indoor public spaces, wash your hands often and stay home if you’re sick. Ventilation of indoor spaces is also important.

If you’re not vaccinated for COVID, get vaccinated.

“I think the vaccination piece is going to continue to be key,” says Conway.

Advertisement

Article content

While vaccination rates are high in B.C., there are still several hundred thousand people who have chosen not get vaccinated, noted Conway.

And there are blank spots, he said.

As part of the work the infectious disease centre does, it canvassed a single room occupancy hotel in the Downtown Eastside where it found that 30 of 100 residents hadn’t been vaccinated even though health authorities believed they had very good coverage.

More than 10.3 million jabs have been delivered in the province, with 90 per cent of those 12 and older fully vaccinated with two doses.

“It’s a tremendous success but what we need is 15 million,” said Conway.

On Friday, in the province’s latest COVID briefing, provincial health officials noted that they continue to see a decrease and slowdown in coronavirus cases and “tentatively” a slowing down in hospital admissions.

Advertisement

Article content

However, officials noted that cases and hospitalizations remain high relative to previous levels during the pandemic.

A similar scenario is playing out in other provinces in Canada, including Ontario, and in some countries such as South Africa and the U.K.

B.C. modelling presented earlier this month showed hospitalizations dropping off to a handful of cases a day by mid-February.

As a result of Omicron, the province has made a number of changes in how it will manage the pandemic. Those include dropping contract tracing because of the variant’s shorter incubation period, dispensing with testing to anyone with symptoms and reducing to five the number of days people who have COVID should isolate unless symptoms persist.

Advertisement

Article content

Only those who are in high-risk groups — such as those 70-years-or-older or people who have compromised immune systems — are priority candidates for testing, provincial health officials have explained.

The latest data available shows Omicron  accounts for more than 96 per cent of cases, overtaking the previous Delta variant.

“I absolutely recognize this is a shift, and it means we have to change our way of thinking that we have been working on so intently together for the last two years,” says Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer.

COVID will now be managed much more like other respiratory illnesses such as the flu or even the common cold, said Henry.

Conway noted COVID hasn’t yet moved from the pandemic stage to an endemic illness were transmission level is lower, predictable and doesn’t overwhelm the health-care system.

Advertisement

Article content

There may be a better idea of when the endemic level might happen by the summer, said Conway.

He cautioned, however, that the worldwide vaccination rate is nowhere near where it needs to be to prevent new variants from emerging.

In Africa, most of the countries have rates of less than 20 per cent for at least one dose of vaccine. In India, for example, only about half of the population is fully vaccinated.

Conway said that this reality underscores the need for those who aren’t vaccinated in B.C. to do so.

ghoekstra@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordon_hoekstra


More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to the Vancouver Sun, the Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through the Vancouver Sun or The Province.

Advertisement

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Adblock test (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending