Concerns mount as Omicron could be highly transmissible – Health Minister
…has 2x mutations on spike protein than deadly Delta strain
Guyanese should take precautions and protect themselves, in light of the newly-discovered Omicron variant, which could have a higher transmissibility rate than other strains of COVID-19.
Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony issued this call during Friday’s COVID-19 briefing that the new strain has double the number of mutations on the spike protein than the Delta variant – which has shaken the world for months.
“We should be concerned about any variant that is circulating. Omicron, from what has been described and what has been discovered so far, we know that this particular variant has more than 50 mutations – 32 of which are on the spike protein…It is believed because of the mutations on the spike proteins, that this variant is going to be more transmissible, meaning that people can get it quite easily. The Delta one, which we’re aware of had about 15 mutations on the spike protein,” he emphasised.
While the vaccines are created to protect against specific spike proteins, the Minister warned that new mutations could result in immune evasion. This is being tested now to determine whether developed antibodies still recognise newer spike proteins.
“The vaccines were developed to detect spike protein and to develop immunity against that spike protein. If that spike protein has mutated in a very significant way, then what is postulated is that the antibodies which persons would have produced would not be able to recognise this new spike protein. That can then lead to what the scientists are calling immune evasion. This thing has recently been discovered so no country can say with certainty that there is immune evasion.”
Immune evasion or escape mutation occurs when the immune system of a host, especially of a human being, is unable to respond to an infectious agent: the host’s immune system is no longer able to recognise and eliminate a pathogen, such as a virus.
Another factor which health authorities remain unsure about is whether the variant is causing a more severe form of the disease, or if specific age groups are more vulnerable.
“Once we get those answers, we will be able to communicate that to the public. Because of these concerns, people ought to take precautions and make sure that they wear their masks especially when they’re in public spaces and indoor environments; social distance and sanitise. If you are going into an indoor environment, make sure it’s properly ventilated,” said the Minister.
Current data shows that symptoms associated with COVID-19 is what a person should experience should they be infected. However, vaccinated individuals would experience minimal symptoms when compared to an unimmunised person.
“From all the findings that we’re hearing about, persons would experience some amount of fever, runny nose, sneezing, losing their sense of taste or sense of smell, and so forth. Those are the typical signs that you have to look out for. If you’re unvaccinated, you will have these signs in a more pronounced way. If you are vaccinated, in some cases there are people that would not have any symptoms and it’s not only for the Omicrom variant.”
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation from South Africa on November 24. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of Omicrom and the first known confirmed infection was from a specimen collected on November 9, the WHO has informed. (G12)