Omicron, the new variant of the Covid-19 virus (Sars-Cov-2), has been spreading five times faster than its previous variants globally. However, shreds of evidence available so far show that its symptoms are mild. People who have contracted it are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as cough, stuffy nose or fatigue.
Due to these reasons, a section of top scientists and doctors have played down the fear among people and said that the Omicron might work as a natural vaccine itself.
Noted immunologist, Gobardhan Das, who is Professor of Molecular Medicine at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “I believe Omicron is probably the natural vaccine. Omicron is the version of the Delta variant with additional mutation. If you have seen its symptoms, people are not getting hospitalised. It is casing very mild symptoms.”
He adds, “So it suggests that over a period of time, this virus has attenuated itself. This is like our vaccine strategy where we make attenuation in the virus and administer it to people.”
Considering its high rate of infectivity, which is five times more than the Delta variant, Prof Das is of the view that Omicron is the better vaccine than any available vaccine.
“The whole virus is going inside the body which has multiple mutations. So the more the body fight against the virus, the better is the immune response. This will produce a better response. It is happening for good as it will produce a better immune response,” Prof Das said.
Another noted immunologist Dr. N K Mehra, former dean of AIIMS and honorary emeritus scientist, Indian Council of Medical Research, says, "I fully support this view because as of now it is very mild and it can prove to be a boon in disguise. Two international studies have shown that it grows ten times slower than the Delta variant in the lungs which is a very good sign. We need to see the data for another few weeks to find out if it behaves in a similar way in all the countries.”
“Having said that, I will also advise people not to lower their guards because if the numbers will go exponentially high, then people will rush towards hospitals, not due to severity but out of panic, and health infrastructure will be overwhelmed. There is also a possibility that treatment may cause more harm. Hence, we need to keep all the precautions on.”
Dr. Sandeep Budhiraja, Group Medical Director of Max Healthcare & Senior Director, Institute of Internal Medicine seconds with both Prof Das and Dr. Mehra on the basis of the current data.
“The data which is available so far and what we have seen so far from our experience of Omicron is that this is going to work as a live attenuated vaccine. Since it is highly infectious and spread very fast but hopefully it is going to cause mild illness for most people, it will act as a booster dose for those who are vaccinated and a vaccine dose for those who are unvaccinated,” Dr. Budhiraja said.
He says that this is good for poor countries like those in Africa where vaccine uptake is very low and so this virus may act as a natural vaccine and give additional protection to the people.
“If that be the case then this is one way by which this pandemic actually can come to an end. Although I think it is too early and we need to wait about a few more weeks,” Dr. Budhiraja said.
He added, “Right now the data that we have is mainly coming from South Africa. That data may or may not be applicable or replicable for all other countries because of the population, seroprevalence, etc so we will have to wait and watch the data especially one that is coming from the UK for the next two weeks. But if it turns out to be mild I do agree that this actually would be more of a blessing and can help overcome this pandemic.”
Dr. Amitav Banerjee, Head, Department of Community Medicine, Dr. DY Patil Medical College Pune, agrees that viruses mutate to adapt themselves so that they can survive and which according to him is Darwin’s Law.
“We also call it Nature’s Law of adaptation. The new mutant, according to the available data and report, is causing very mild and self-limiting symptoms,” Dr. Banerjee added.
Dr. Banerjee is of the view that a deadly virus dies with the person whom it infects but a variant that causes a very mild infection survives and spreads fast. This is so because it is so mild that most of the time people remain asymptomatic and don’t even isolate themselves.
He added, "In this wild goose chase for mutating viruses we may end up chasing a version of the common cold! We should ask whether it is worth the effort? We should weigh the collateral harm which will ensue. To mitigate the impact of mutants, if any, we should resort to focused protection including vaccination of high risk groups while the young & healthy can lead normal lives."