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Omicron Fears Overblown?

A reason for optimism on Omicron: Our immune systems are not blank slates

STAT NEWS – The emergence of a new Covid-19 variant with a startlingly large constellation of mutations has countries around the world sounding alarms.

While the concerns are understandable, experts in immunology say people need to remember a critical fact: Two years and 8 billion vaccine doses into the pandemic, many immune systems are no longer blank slates when it comes to SARS-CoV-2.

The new SARS-2 variant, known as Omicron, may more easily sidestep some of the immunity of some vaccinated and previously infected people.

But there’s good reason to think people who already have some immune protections may avoid the worst of what Covid infections can do to immunologically naïve people.

Ali Ellebedy, an associate professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told STAT:

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“Dealing with naïve people is never the same as if you have some memory. It’s never like [being back at] square one,”

“The virus is going to not find it as easy compared to the situation in January 2020 or December 2019. It’s just completely different now.”

He cautioned, however, that that is more true in some parts of the world — in other words, affluent countries — than it is in others:

“I think the folks who will suffer most are the completely unimmunized or immunized with very weak vaccines, like most of the developing world.”

The new variant may well erode some of the protection induced by vaccines, or by prior Covid infection. If Omicron takes off, there may be larger numbers of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and more reinfections among the previously infected. But a smaller portion of those infections may develop into cases of serious or severe disease.

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“One would think that even if now at the get-go you don’t have a neutralizing antibody response, there might still be a safety net there. And that safety net may be relatively stable when we talk about infection,” said Florian Krammer, a professor of vaccinology … read more. 

 

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