The idea of gaining herd immunity through natural infection to fight Covid is “foolish”, as there are huge costs to be paid, said lead researcher at the World Health Organization Dr. Soumya Swaminathan to NDTV today, adding that the WHO has always maintained this position. About the new Omicron sub-variant, she said that BA.2 is more potent than BA.1, and its transmission is more than other sub-variants. It addresses some countries, especially India and Denmark, she added.
Dr. Swaminathan said the global health agency could not yet comment on the effect of Omicron as it is a relatively new variant and studies are still underway to determine if it can cause re-infection and how it affects long-term immunity. “Two months is too little time to know if it causes re-infection and how it affects long-term immunity. We saw some studies in which the blood of patients recovering from the new variant helped with Delta infection, but we know not whether it will be true for future variants, “she said.
On how current vaccines against Covid respond to Omicron, she said that laboratory-level studies show that antibodies are less likely to neutralize the new variant, even less so than the Delta variant, which was already less responsive to the vaccine than the previous variants. , which were taken into account while the vaccines were being developed. The good news, however, is that clinical data show fewer deaths and serious illness in vaccinated patients. There is no need to worry about whether the current vaccines work on the Omicron strain, she said.
“The vaccines we use to protect against hospitalizations and deaths work really well. They help us all. The elderly and vulnerable are much better protected now. It shows that the vaccines are effective and a good defense mechanism, and it turns out that the vaccines are effective. “she said, adding that we should not only take into account antibody response, but also look closely at clinical data and study other factors such as T cell response.
“Hybrid immunity is the strongest immunity we can have at the moment – Hybrid is when one has been infected with Omicron and has also received the vaccine doses,” she said.
Whether there will be more mutations, she said it is an RNA virus and it is natural that it will continue to mutate.
The WHO has discussed a universal vaccine that works against all variants of the virus, she said. “A pan-coronavirus vaccine or pan-SARS vaccine is the holy grail and would be ideal. Scientifically it is plausible and possible, but all this is being worked on and we will have to wait and see,” she said, comparing it. with efforts to create a universal flu vaccine. Currently, the flu shot has to be changed every year due to new strains.
Heterologous booster shots (when a different vaccine is used for a booster shot than the one taken earlier) and intranasal vaccine to provide local mucosal immunity are also being explored, she said.
Dr. Swaminathan stressed studying local data to make decisions about booster shots. “It’s ideal to have your own data coming from one’s own research. It’s not ideal or possible to take another country’s data and try to work out its strategy. Having local scientific research and data is crucial,” she said.
The WHO has been aware of the need to prioritize some groups to launch the booster vaccines. Rising age and underlying comorbidities are risk factors, she said.
The immune system decreases as one gets older, which is why it needs additional stimuli to raise the immune level, she said when asked why the elderly with comorbidities are prioritized for booster shots when many young people also live with comorbidities.
India has done a commendable job of vaccinating a large population given its size and complexity involved in getting people vaccinated, she said.
As for whether Covid pills that can be administered orally work, she confirmed that they actually work against all variants. However, monoclonal antibody treatments do not seem to work, she added.