Boris handed Omicron hope as study pinpoints why Covid strain may be milder for Britons


Scientists examined human cells to help explain why some early data from countries such as South Africa and England indicate the strain causes less severe disease. While Omicron may not invade lung cells efficiently, the new study confirmed that the variant avoids the majority of the antibodies made by fully vaccinated individuals. The research team showed that a “booster” dose of the Pfizer vaccine significantly increased the neutralization power of vaccinated people’s antibodies.

But senior author Prof Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement: ”We would still expect a waning in immunity to occur over time”.

While research is yet to be peer-reviewed in a scientific journal, Prof Gupta said the study findings do suggest that “Omicron’s mutations present the virus with a double-edged sword – it’s got better at evading the immune system, but it might have lost some of its ability to cause severe disease”.

He added that scientists still must confirm that these results from experiments in lab dishes match what happens in human patients and that the variant’s mutations do really influence the severity of infection.

Data from South Africa, England and other countries has indicated that, on average, Omicron infections might be less severe than other strains of the virus.

But background levels of immunity from natural infection and vaccination make these results difficult to interpret, NPR has reported.

It comes as the Prime Minister is holding crunch talks today with medical advisors.

Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance will brief the Mr on hospitalisation rates and the most recent data.

It comes as reports suggest Mr Johnson is leaning towards guidance urging people to be careful rather than enforcing legal restrictions.

A string of studies published before Christmas showed the Omicron variant is milder than previous strains of coronavirus, with the risk of hospitalisations between 50 and 70 percent lower than the Delta variant.

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Widespread cell-cell fusion in the lungs is often seen in the context of severe COVID-19, the researchers noted in their report.

But in their experiments, Omicron initiated cell fusion less efficiently than Delta, and this appeared to reduce the virus’s ability to replicate in lung cells.

Prof Gupta said in a statement: “We speculate that the more efficient the virus is at infecting our cells, the more severe the disease might be.

“The fact that Omicron is not so good at entering lung cells and that it causes fewer fused cells with lower infection levels in the lab suggests this new variant may cause less severe lung-associated disease.”


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