Virologists and infectious disease experts say Covaxin and Covishield vaccines can prevent hospitalization and death from the new Botswana variant Omicron (B.1.1.529), the CoV’s most mutated version to date.
Raman Gangakhedkar, a senior scientist and former head of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) epidemiology and communicable diseases division, stated :
“Theoretically, it is possible that the new variant of concern (Omicron) may challenge vaccines’ efficacy. But, we know that our vaccines prevent hospitalization and death and the same may be potent against the Omicron variant. People must take two doses of the vaccine and adhere to Covid-19 appropriate behavior, especially that of wearing a mask, to ward off infection from such variants.”
Gangakhedkar is among the 26 members of the WHO team assigned to investigate the origins of pathogens that trigger pandemics, such as SARS-CoV-2.
There is not enough data yet to understand Omicron’s ability to evade vaccine or a natural infection-induced immune response. Hence, we should continue to enhance coverage in vaccine roll-out so that hospitalisation does not increase. Unvaccinated people must take two doses of the vaccine and those who have taken one dose must take the second dose at the earliest,” Gangakhedkar elucidated
The second dose of the vaccine ensures that it boosts both virus-specific antibodies and T cells (T-lymphocytes), which are memory cells and part of the broader immune response against the virus, as said by Gangakhedkar, who advises strict adherence to the two-dose regimen.
The disease-causing characteristics of this variant, including as infectiousness, severity potential, and immune evasion following vaccination or prior infection with other variants, are currently unknown.
Senior clinical epidemiologist Amitav Banerjee said :
India’s advantage comes from the fact that the majority of the population has come into contact with the virus and developed immunity. Natural infection exposes the entire virus to our body’s immune system, training the memory cells or T cells to recognise subsequent invasions by the same or closely related viruses, including novel varieties.