Past COVID infection less likely to fend off Omicron, scientists warn

Asia's Tech News Daily

Coronavirus, COVID vaccine, omicron variant

Researchers have found that previous COVID-19 infection doesn’t seem to provide protection against reinfection from the Omicron variant. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

COVID-19 reinfections among people who’ve already battled the virus appear to be more likely with the Omicron variant than other strains, South African scientists warned Friday.

A surge in coronavirus reinfections occurred in the country as the new “variant of concern” emerged, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which tracks reinfections.

By contrast, there was no reinfection spike upon the arrival of other variants such as the highly contagious Delta strain, the scientists told the World Health Organization on Thursday.

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta, and now with Omicron, it doesn’t seem to be the case,” one of the researchers, Anne von Gottberg of the University of Witwatersrand, said at a WHO briefing.

But she added, “We believe that vaccines will still, however, protect against severe disease.”

Coronavirus, COVID vaccine, omicron variant

Researchers still believe that vaccines protect against severe illness.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

In a conversation about the development, Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of emergencies at WHO, said reinfection cases could turn out to be mild.

“The data we’re really looking to see is going to be around severity of infection and whether or not the vaccines continue to protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death,” Ryan said. “And right now, there’s no reason to suppose that they won’t. We just haven’t got the details yet.”

The findings, posted online by the research group Thursday, haven’t yet undergone scientific review. It’s also unclear how many reinfections were confirmed as Omicron cases or whether they caused serious illness.

But the timing of the reinfection spike likely “demonstrates substantial population-level evidence for evasion of immunity from prior infection,” the researchers wrote.

The research comes as Omicron has spread to at least 23 countries, including the US, where at least five cases have been reported in the New York City area.

With Post wires

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