Omicron’s Unusual Genetic Profile and Speed of Spread Concern Scientists

The new B.1.1.529 variant now known as Omicron has scientists concerned for two primary reasons. The first is epidemiological and rand the speed it is spreading. The second is its highly unusual genetic profile with ‘an unprecedented sampling’ of mutations. There are other genetic changes that have not been seen before, whose significance is as yet unknown. WHO recognized the new Covid strain as a variant of concern Friday.

Coronavirus Contagion


Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet

Omicron has over 30 mutations in it’s spike protein Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead on Covid-19. In a statement on Friday, the W.H.O. said the Omicron variant had “a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” and that “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other” variants of the virus.

“Omicron, B.1.1.529, is named as a variant of concern because it has some concerning properties,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said in a video published on Twitter. “This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics.”

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said in a video published on Twitter

However further to Dr. Kerkhove’s comments The FT reported “The 50 mutations on the new B.1.1.529 variant… include more than 30 on the spike protein, the exposed part of the virus that binds with human cells. These changes could make it more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant and more likely to evade the immune protection conferred by vaccines or prior infection.”

Scientists are concerned for two main reasons.

One is epidemiological and relates to the speed with which the variant that emerged this month is spreading in South Africa, particularly in Gauteng province… Daily cases have more than tripled in South Africa since Tuesday, with 2,828 cases recorded on Friday. Early testing results indicated that 90% of the new cases on Wednesday in Gauteng were caused by the new variant…

November 26 – Financial Times (Clive Cookson and Oliver Barnes)

The other cause for concern is its highly unusual genetic profile. Jeffrey Barrett, director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, described Omicron as ‘an unprecedented sampling’ of mutations from four earlier variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. There are other genetic changes that have not been seen before, whose significance is as yet unknown, he added.

November 26 – Financial Times (Clive Cookson and Oliver Barnes)

Spike Proteins gain entry through host cells

Researchers in South Africa found more than 30 mutations to the spike protein on the surface of the Omicron coronavirus. The protein latches onto host cells to gain entry and is also the chief target of antibodies that can stop an infection. The large number of mutations raised concerns that Omicron might evade antibodies produced by infections from previous variants, or by vaccines.

Jacob Glanville, a computational immunologist and founder of California therapeutics company Centivax said 15 of the mutations in Omicron are on the ‘receptor binding domain’. This was described as acting like a ‘grappling hook’ for the Sars-Cov-2 virus to enter human cells.

“These mutations help the virus circumvent the body’s immune defenses because it is trained by vaccines or prior infection to recognize and fight the original Wuhan strain. By comparison, the Delta variant which accounts for almost all sequenced cases worldwide dented the effectiveness of vaccines with just three mutations in this region.”

Jacob Glanville,

Vaccines may not work well against the new strain

“Based on omicron’s mutation profile, partial immune escape is likely, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a threat assessment report Friday. The EU’s health agency is among the first official authorities to acknowledge that vaccines may not work well against the new strain. ‘The omicron variant is the most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic so far, which raises concerns that it may be associated with increased transmissibility, significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and increased risk for reinfections,’ the ECDC said.”

November 26 – ECDC

United States will place restrictions on travelers from South Africa and 7 other African countries.

Starting on Monday President Biden and his administration will prohibit travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi from coming to the United States. The move is to try to contain the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, senior administration officials said on Friday, though they said it would be impossible to prevent it from entering the United States.

African Horn Affected by US Omicron Ban

The travel ban will not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents, officials said. But they will need to show a negative coronavirus test before coming to the United States.

Mr. Biden made the decision after he was briefed by advisers including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who said in an interview Friday that the variant appeared to be spreading rapidly and that he and other health officials in the United States were consulting with South African scientists.

Canada closes borders to passengers from Horn of Africa

Canada to issue travel advisory to ask all Canadians not to travel to Southern Africa for the time being

Will temporarily ban arrival of all people who have been in 7 southern African nations in the last 14 days

Source: Bloomberg, Twitter, TC

From The TradersCommunity News Desk