Scientists in South Africa are warning that reinfections among those who have already contracted COVID-19 in the past are more likely with the new Omicron variant compared to earlier variants of the coronavirus.
According to a report by Associated Press, a group of researchers tracking reinfections in the country have reported a rise with the arrival of the new Omicron strain.
The rise in the number of cases hasn’t been seen before even with other variants that has been said to be much more contagious such as the delta variant.
Their findings were posted online but are yet to undergo scientific review. Also, the researchers are yet to specify what portion of the reinfection cases were confirmed as omicron cases and whether those infected had a serious illness.
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One thing that has caused a big concern is the timing of the reinfection which has led to researchers suggesting that the omicron strain might just be the culprit.
“Previous infection used to protect against delta, and now with omicron, it doesn’t seem to be the case,” one of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of Witwatersrand, said at a World Health Organization briefing on Thursday.
In the study, there was no examination about the level of protection offered by vaccination considering the fact that vaccines are made to trigger a layer of immune response which can help fend off or prevent severe disease in cases of infection.
“We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease,” von Gottberg said.
The head of emergencies at WHO, Dr. Michael Ryan said reinfection turns up in the nose but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll become a severe disease while vaccines has shown to offer protection to the body.
“The data we’re really looking to see is going to be around the severity of the infection and whether or not the vaccines continue to protect against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Ryan said. “And right now, there’s no reason to suppose that they won’t. We just haven’t got the details yet.”
South African and Botswana scientists just this past week and it has since spread to over 24 countries globally.
However, there aren’t sufficient information yet about the new strain whether it’s more contagious even though research expert think it is.
But learning how much protection is provided by prior infection is important, especially in parts of the world where much of the population remains to be vaccinated.
The study suggests “omicron will be able to overcome natural and probably vaccine-induced immunity to a significant degree,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said in a written response to the findings. Just how much “is still unclear though it is doubtful that this will represent a complete escape.”