To test vaccine efficacy, ICMR isolating Omicron strain

To test vaccine efficacy, ICMR isolating Omicron strain
© Provided by The Times of India

PUNE: Scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology (ICMR-NIV) have initiated efforts to isolate and grow the Omicron strain of the novel coronavirus from the Dombivali man’s throat/nasal swab sample inside its high-end biosafety laboratory in Pune.

The scientific exercise will answer two critical questions: Can this variant impact the efficacy of Covishield and Covaxin; and will it outfight existing antibodies in those who have had Covid illness from old strains?

“ICMR-NIV received the positive sample of the Dombivali man whose genome sequencing confirmed the infection from Omicron strain on Saturday.

“Isolating the whole Omicron strain from the sample is going to take at least a week. Thereafter, we will be able to take up a neutralisation study to assess the efficacy of Covaxin- and Covishield-induced antibodies and natural infection-induced antibodies against the lab-grown strain,” said an ICMR official. The isolation and culturing of the Omicron strain are going to be the first step towards finding answers to these questions.

“Once we have isolated the whole strain and grown a sufficient amount of it in our lab, scientists will be able to take up the neutralisation study to assess vaccine efficacy,” the official said.

A neutralisation study is the best way to assess vaccine efficacy and chances of reinfection. Through this study, scientists will also be in a position to compare the ‘level’ of neutralising ability against existing strains and the new variant. “And beyond cell-culture experiments, the protective ability of vaccine-induced as well as natural infection-induced antibodies can be studied in animal models against the new variant. A positive correlation will increase the confidence in vaccines,” said another virologist.

Infection by any strain of SARS-CoV-2 kicks off an immune response against the entire virus, and not just against certain parts such as its ‘spikes’. This is why many experts believe mutations are unlikely to affect vaccine-induced protection.

There are 1,273 amino acids on the SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein that triggers the immune response. The new Omicron variant has 32 amino acid changes or mutations in the S protein. So, the assumption that vaccines will offer protection against the new strain sounds logical, experts said.

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