New on Corona

Author : Dr. P D Gupta 

Former Director Grade Scientist, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad (INDIA), Email:, Cell: 080728 91356 

Corona is changing so fast the even the book Corona Gyan published in late 2020 has become out dated, the only statement remains true is “... know corona well as you have to live with it...” In the short period of roughly 2years of its existence following mutants were spotted out. 

Alpha (B.1.1.7) In late 2020 

Beta (B.1.351). 

Gamma (P.1). In January 2021, 

Delta (B.1.617.2).  in India in December 2020. It caused a huge surge in cases in mid-April 2021.  

Mu (B.1.621). in Colombia in January    

R.1  March 2021  Japan.    

Epsilon, Theta, and Zeta  

and of course Omicron, the new variant, November 11, 2021 in Botswana. 

How Do Variants Happen? 

The genetic material of all Corona viruses is called RNA (ribonucleic acid). When viruses infect   they attach to the cells in the body in turn cells, get inside them, and then RNA is replicated and thus they increase in numbers, which helps them spread. If there's a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed. Scientists call those changes mutations. 

These changes happen randomly and by accident. It's a normal part of what happens to viruses as they multiply and spread.   If a virus has a random change that makes it easier to infect people and it spreads, that variant will become more common. The bottom line is that all viruses, including corona viruses, can change over time. 

Is Omicron Less severe but more deadly?  

Omicron is "almost certainly" not more severe than Delta, Dr. Anthony Fauci told AFP on Tuesday. Omicron could even result in milder disease than other variants, But scientists are still waiting on data to know how well antibodies hold up against the variant.  Preliminary data from lab testing found that the version of its booster currently in use in the United States and elsewhere provided increased antibody levels to neutralize the virus.   But it also found that a double dose of the booster shot provided a much greater increase in those levels. 

The vaccine manufacturing companies have different claims about the efficacy of their vaccines some of them started working to develop an omicron-specific booster.   

Omicron variant and booster COVID-19 vaccines 

On Dec 13, 2021, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed that a patient in England had died after contracting the omicron  . The previous day, prime minister Boris Johnson launched a drive to offer all adults in the UK a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year. “We are now facing an emergency”, stated Johnson. “There is a tidal wave of omicron coming and I am afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough.” WHO categorises the risk associated with omicron as very high.   Since November, 2021omicron detected in more than 60 countries. The UK had registered 10 017 cases of omicron. The true caseload is likely to be considerably larger.      

It is too soon to know the exact extent to which vaccination or previous infection with SARS-CoV-2 protects against infection with omicron. “It certainly looks like a three-shot vaccination schedule will be needed against omicron”  

Much will depend on the scale and severity of the breakthrough infections associated with omicron. Currently, researchers are heavily reliant on the sequencing data for omicron, which reveals more than 30 mutations in the spike protein upon which the COVID-19 vaccines are based, and neutralising antibody data, which shows that the variant has partial but not complete resistance to pre-existing immunity. But vaccine effectiveness is also determined by binding antibodies, which prevent SARS-CoV-2 from getting into the cells, and T-cells, which attack infected cells and help with antibody production. 

Although already omicron almost became pandemic, Thank God so far Very few cases of omicron were registered in India. While explaining the Indian scenario about omicron Dr Randeep  Guleria, Director, AIIMS, New Delhi said, "It is unlikely that a third wave of COVID-19 of a magnitude comparable to the first and second will hit India. With time the pandemic will take an endemic form. We'll continue to get cases but the severity will be highly reduced."  He also suggested two ways to restrict the omicron to spread. One to get vaccine and two  to follow the suggestions given earlier at the time of lockdown. According to the WHO "No country will be able to get out of the pandemic with booster doses".  

New research suggests that the Omicron variant often results in milder illness compared with previous variants. But hospitals could still be flooded with patients because Omicron is exploding so rapidly. Paradoxically, the researchers also found that the Omicron virus was not that much less dangerous than Delta. The incredible speed of the Omicron surge and the contagiousness of the variant may outweigh its lesser severity, swamping hospitals and causing many deaths. “I still can’t quite wrap my head around how quickly this is moving,” said Joseph Fauver, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “I think it’s going to be really bad. I don’t know how else to put it.” One startling new projection suggests a scale of Omicron infections that is almost unimaginable: three billion new coronavirus infections across the world in the next two months — about as many as there have been in the last two years. 

The forecast by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington predicts a peak in late January or early February of as many as 400,000 reported cases per day in the U.S. There were about 250,000 at the height of last winter’s surge. The group projects that most of the infections will be mild. (The author has his own study and views)