The new COVID-19 strain, previously known as B.1.1.529 has now been recognized as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organisation. Meaning, it has now been given an official name – Omicron; a letter from the Greek alphabet. The early evidence of the variant not only suggests that it contains certain concerning mutations but it also harbours a higher risk of reinfections.
Another concerning fact around the virus stems from the fear that the current vaccines may be inefficient for it. As the variant may have resistance against all the vaccines rolled out for people worldwide, there is a need for new vaccines. Fortunately, vaccine manufacturers have already started working on a potential new vaccine that would be able to fight the virus.
Effective tailor-made vaccine
Vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna have been working on developing a customized vaccine for the new variant based on the evidence specifications available. Pfizer and BioNTech expect,
[We expect] to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval.
On the other hand, reportedly, Moderna has an advanced new comprehensive strategy that can anticipate new variants of concerns from early 2021. The analysis would also include three levels of responses if their vaccine immunity wanes. Further, Novavax claims to have already started working on the vaccine for Omicron, which will be ready for the testing and manufacturing phase within the next few weeks.
Expected to be in the UK soon
The new strain was first found in South Africa and since then many countries have updated their travel restrictions. Currently, no infections linked to Omicron have been detected in the UK so far, but there has been a case in Belgium of an unvaccinated traveller. South African epidemiologists expect the virus to be present in the UK by now. Health secretary Sajid Javid warned that the variant could have different impacts on individuals.
As such, it becomes increasingly significant for people to get booster jabs. Further, amidst these concerns, flights from South African countries have been suspended for now. These countries have also been put on the red list. Any British citizen travelling back from such countries is required to quarantine in government-approved hotels for ten days. According to Mr Javid, if managing the variant gets tough and there is a need to go further, the UK will take necessary action.