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    Researchers: omicron 'uploads' long-term immunity; it will immunize us against future variations

    Omicron will infect people who have been omitted by the other variants and provide long-term immunity. Along with immunity from vaccines, it may be the last variant that focuses so much of our attention, says evolutionary biologist Dr Rafal Mostowy. “One hopes that at some point Sars-CoV-2 infection will become like the common cold,” adds Professor of Medical Sciences Wojciech Szczeklik.

    Dr Mostowy commented on speculation by other experts appearing in scientific articles that the omicron variant may be the last to cause so much global concern. One of the authors of this claim is Dr Ben Krishna, a specialist in immunology and virology at the University of Cambridge. On “The Conversation”, he published an article titled: “Omicron may not be the final variant, but it may be the final variant of concern.”

     

    Dr Rafal Mostowy, an evolutionary biologist of infectious diseases at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, points out that the article must be viewed from a public health perspective. “From a public health perspective, infection in itself is not a problem. The problem is the risk of severe disease and death,” he stressed in an interview with PAP.

     

    The expert reminded us of the two mechanisms of immunity that affect whether a person gets infected or sick.

     

    “In broad terms, we have short-term immunity, which protects against infection through the production of antibodies, and long-term immunity, which is cellular; it doesn’t protect as well against infection, but it protects against hospitalization and death in the first place. Contact with the virus allows for the development of more complete long-term immunity, and thus the disease becomes less fatal. It’s kind of a trade-off: on the one hand, we don’t die, and on the other hand, the virus can spread – and that’s what the virus is evolutionarily about. I suspect that a similar path was once followed by many other currently circulating seasonal viruses,” Dr Mostowy said.

     

    The expert made the conjecture that the omicron variant would reach people that the other variants have not reached. Long-term and short-term immunity will then work together, giving protection against severe illness caused by subsequent SARS-CoV-2 variants, should they arise.

     

    “Omicron will help ‘upload’ long-term immunity. Combined with the immunity that vaccines will give, omicron has the potential to become the last variant to focus so much of our attention. In such a scenario when more variants are created, they will not wreak as much havoc. At the same time, this does not mean that cases of people dying from COVID-19 will disappear. The situation will be similar to that seen with the flu. It is a seasonal disease, but it is also still fatal for some people,” Mostowy said.

     

    Also, professor Wojciech Szczeklik, the Head of the Intensive Care and Anesthesiology Department of the 5th Military Research Hospital with Policlinic in Cracow, in an interview with PAP notes that preliminary information about omicron indicates that it is highly infectious but also mild.

     

    “Preliminary studies show that omicron attacks the lungs weaklier than the delta variant, and is more likely to localize in the upper respiratory tract, making it easier for it to spread to more people. We are additionally protected against a severe course of the disease (despite the fact that it can be easily infected) by vaccinations and survived infections with earlier variants” – recalled prof. Szczeklik. 

     

    According to him, “one can hope that at some point Sars-CoV-2 infection will become like the common cold: everyone will come into contact with the virus in the course of their lives probably even multiple times, a significant portion of the population will be vaccinated, symptoms will be mild. If we are lucky, the pandemic will at some point move into endemic (limited area) and seasonal infections,” the professor said.

     

    However, Prof. Szczeklik cautioned that this may be wishful thinking. “For the past two years, the Sars-CoV-2 virus has continually surprised us and is constantly ahead of the curve – so any prediction of the future is, unfortunately, like fortune-telling,” he commented.

     

    Omicron is less likely to cause severe Covid-19, but it may cause dangerous health consequences, especially for people with immune system diseases or other burdens, such as seniors.

     

    Its ubiquity may also encourage the emergence of more variants. On Wednesday, January 12, World Health Organization (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that Omicron, despite being a variant that causes less severe Covid-19 symptoms, is dangerous because of its rapid spread that could bring further, more dangerous mutations of the virus.

     

    “Although Omicron causes symptoms less severe than Delta, it remains a very dangerous virus, especially for unvaccinated people,” Tedros added. The more Omikron circulates among the population, the greater the risk that “another variant (of the coronavirus) will emerge that is even more infectious and even more deadly than Omikron,” he announced.

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