Interpreting Data on the Omicron Variant


A new coronavirus variant termed as Omicron has been reported. This has sparked a lot of speculation and trepidation globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised an alarm based on the number of mutations of the Omicron variant. However, what those mutations mean for how quickly and easily the variant spreads, how much can the variant can escape the protection provided by the vaccines and how severe the symptoms are is yet to be ascertained.

More Results in Omicron Variant Waited

What is extraordinary about Omicron is that it has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, particularly on the receptor-binding domain, with which the virus attaches to a living being’s cells. Researchers worldwide use neutralization assays to understand how well antibodies can work against the Omicron variant.

“With a neutralization assay, one can collect a vaccinated individual’s blood and calculate how well their antibodies can block the virus. Dr. Adam Lauring, an infectious disease specialist and a virologist, states that he would not be surprised if there is a reduction in how well antibodies block this variant instead of how they have been stopping the previous variants.

As delta currently spreads like wildfire, the question in mind for many is, can Omicron be worse? Despite some early reports based on a few cluster cases in South Africa, Lauring states that it is too soon to confirm if Omicron is more infectious than the delta variant.

Many experts feel that our current immunity levels should ideally protect vaccinated people from severe infections or death even if infected with the Omicron variant. However, they may be more susceptible to mild illness and disease.

Neutralization Studies on the Omicron Variant

Neutralization studies are extremely important to enable scientists to determine the amount of immune evasion possible. However, the information about what that means for people in the real world is limited.

“With the neutralization studies, one can get more clarity if it is really good, or really bad,” states virologist Larissa Thackray of Washington University in St. Louis, who has been studying the impact of variants on vaccine responses. Ideally, we should not be worried about a fourfold or fivefold drop, states Thackray; even a 50-fold drop is fine if the starting point for the neutralization levels is relatively high.

But if it is a 100-fold drop or more, we only depend on T cell immune responses and other parts of the immune system that can pick up the new variant, concludes Thackray.

Even with that type of decline, a vaccinated individual will not be immunologically “naive” to the virus — meaning there will be no protection at all; however, it may push companies and regulators to consider vaccines that target Omicron specifically.

Booster Doses

The job of antibodies is to prevent the viruses’ ability to enter into the cells in the respiratory tract and grow. However, other essential parts of the immune system have to be considered, such as T cells and memory cells, to significantly decrease the chance for an infection to cause severe disease, hospitalization, or death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have expanded their recommendation for COVID vaccine booster doses on November 29 to state all adults should get a booster dose of the vaccine if they are more than sixmonths old from their initial vaccine dose.


Based on what we know about the immune system, continuous exposure to the spike protein through a vaccine booster could help alleviate the antibody response.