The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is a “very high” global risk, causing an alarm. It is expected to be dominant in early 2022, according to experts, as it is 70 times more contagious than Delta, which is 100 times more contagious than the Alpha mutation.
The APE-MPE addressed the rector of EKPA Thanos Dimopoulos for all the latest data on the Omicron variant, the effectiveness of vaccines, but also on ways to prevent and reduce its spread, in view of the Christmas holidays. Vaccination and observance of individual protection measures is our shield against the Omicron variant, says the rector of EKPA, proposing in addition, to conduct a sample check before our festive gatherings, even if there are no symptoms.
Asked if we will return to restrictions, as in the initial stage of the pandemic, Mr. Dimopoulos states that after two years there is also the knowledge and weapons, vaccines and approved drugs, to treat COVID-19 infection.
“All of this suggests that the constraints we experienced in the early stages of the pandemic are not expected to return. “Based on the progress that has been made, we can say that the end of the pandemic is now a tangible scenario, maybe in the coming year as well.”
The latest data for “Omicron”
“All the evidence shows that the rate of spread of the Omicron variant will lead to an increase in diagnoses within the next 2-3 months worldwide. But what is not clear, and most importantly, is how much pressure the Omicron strain will put on health systems.
Three factors will play a catalytic role and determine the impact of the new variant on the global community:
1) the morbidity-mortality of the strain in the unvaccinated population,
2) the efficacy of the vaccines against the Omicron strain after 2 or 3 doses, and
3) the severity of the re-infection. “International scientific efforts are underway in order to make safe assessments on these three axes”, says Mr. Dimopoulos.
Let’s not forget to stay safe
In the light of the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron strain, countries are taking measures to limit the spread of Omicron. In our country, it was announced the obligation to perform a diagnostic test for COVID-19 within 72 hours for PCR test or rapid test 24 hours for those entering Greece from abroad regardless of their vaccination status. The measure will be valid from next Sunday, December 19, until January 10.
However, as Mr. Dimopoulos reports in the APE-MPE, the gatherings that may be centers of dispersal of COVID-19, in view of the holidays, cause concern to the scientists.
“Let us not forget to stay safe,” he said. “We are also vaccinated with the booster dose of the vaccine against COVID-19, we use a proper face mask in crowded public places and we immediately perform a diagnostic test for COVID-19 on the appearance of symptoms. In addition, sampling before our meetings, even in the absence of symptoms with self-test or rapid test, is a measure to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, “he said.
The booster dose significantly increases the protection against “Omicron”
“The first data show that the reduction in morbidity and mortality with 2 doses of mRNA vaccine remains at relatively high levels of 70%. In this we should note that the decrease in apparent efficacy may be due in part to the fact that the severity of Omicron in the unvaccinated is lower. The addition of the booster (or third) dose, as several studies have shown, enhances efficacy against mutant strains, as evidenced by laboratory studies in Omicron.
According to Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the booster dose significantly increases protection against Omicron. Specifically, the third dose of mRNA vaccine increases antibody levels against the Omicron strain by 25-fold and neutralizing antibody levels by 35-fold.
Thus, protection against symptomatic disease can reach 75% with the booster dose. “Although at the moment we are lacking larger studies on the clinical efficacy of the third dose, the speed with which the third dose will be completed in the population is expected to play a very important role in stopping the Omikron wave”, says Mr. Dimopoulos .
Τthe end of the pandemic is now a tangible scenario
“Although many fear that with the appearance of the Omicron strain, the pandemic may start from the beginning, this is rather unfounded,” says Mr. Dimopoulos. “The emergence of new variants of the virus is part of the natural evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in proportion to the emergence of new variants of the influenza virus. Almost two years after the initial appearance of COVID-19, we have effective vaccines in our hands, while the first approved drugs against COVID-19 are already on the market.
Recently, the Pfizer company announced that the antiviral drug Paxlovid reduced by 90% hospitalizations and deaths when administered 3 to 5 days after the onset of symptoms. In addition, the first data show the effectiveness of this drug against the micron strain. On December 16, 2021 it was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, a study showing that another antiviral drug Molnupiravir is also effective against SARS-CoV-2.
In addition, the international medical and scientific community has experience in treating patients with mild, moderate or severe COVID-19 and is aware of the natural course of the disease. Another important therapeutic intervention is the administration of monoclonal antibodies to treat early forms of the disease. All of this suggests that the limitations we experienced in the early stages of the pandemic are not expected to return.
“Based on the progress that has been made, we can perhaps say that the end of the pandemic is now a tangible scenario, perhaps within the next year as well,” the rector of EKPA told APE-MPE.