The Omicron variant was born before the Delta variant and may have ‘evolved’ in an immunosuppressed individual. These are the hypotheses illustrated by Professor Wolfgang Preiser of Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, South Africa, where the variant has been identified,
“According to current knowledge, an early form of the Omicron variant evolved as a separate form of the virus before the Alpha and Delta variants emerged,” Preiser tells Dpa. The scientist is part of the team of researchers who discovered Omicron. The hypothesis is that the variant evolved over months without attracting particular attention. “The question is: why has Omicron been in hiding for so long and is only now running? Was there a mutation or two missing to allow it to spread rapidly? ”. Currently, the oldest data refers to the identification of the variant in the first half of November. The analyzes and sequencing made it possible to ascertain that Omicron, identified in South Africa and Botswana, has a large number of mutations, including those located in the Spike protein, the attachment point that the virus uses on human cells.
Preisder believes Omicron is more contagious than the Delta variant and does not comment on the possibility of milder symptoms. Too soon, too, to say that the new variant circulates more easily among children. “In South Africa there are many hospitalizations among children, but they are practically all unvaccinated”. The researcher, as the Dpa points out, takes into consideration a series of hypotheses related to the origin of Omicron. The variant may have developed in a patient with HIV or another form of immunodeficiency. In a person with these characteristics, the coronavirus could replicate over months and change without being completely eliminated by the immune system. “It’s a hypothesis and it’s not proven,” says Preiser. Unanswered questions abound, including the question of vaccine efficacy. “At the moment in South Africa there are many infections among the vaccinated, but it is not clear if this is related to the specific characteristics of the variant.” It is plausible, for example, that infections among health workers are linked to the progressive decline in vaccine protection, given that they are immunized at the beginning of the vaccination campaign.