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Omicron: A Variant of Concern or a natural Vaccine?

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By: Dr. Arshed Iqbal Dar

The most common mutual service is to warn one another of danger by means of the lessons to be learned from climate change, biodiversity loss, urban sprawl, ethnic conflicts and economic down-turns. When we abuse or neglect fauna and flora, we also harm ourselves in the process and it takes us a while to realise that. Virtually, everyone knows the phrase, “Nature red in tooth and claw”. As Lord Tennyson’s says that ‘nature is blind to our personal hopes and feelings and doesn’t play favorites’. Similarly, George Williams, explains in an essay titled “Mother Nature is a Wicked Old Witch” that planet earth wasn’t formed to be an agreeable place for humankind (or any other creature) to live with. We and all other organisms have had to work hard to adapt to the Earth’s geological belching and thrusting’s, harsh temperatures and climate regimes. In Williams words, ‘organism adapt to their environment, never vice-versa’.

According to WHO, Omicron is the fastest spreading covid-19 variant- the fastest known to humankind. This new variant was first detected in specimens collected on November 11, 2021 in Botswana and on November 14, 2021 in South Africa. On November 26, 2021, WHO named the B.1.1.529 Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC). The United States designated Omicron as a ‘Variant of Concern’ on November 30, 2021. This highly mutated variant has caused alarm among scientists and is widely expected to become dominant because of its high transmissibility.

Some virologists claim that omicron variant could act as a natural vaccine and many scientists have backed this idea adding that it may help in its covid-19 progression towards an endemic stage.

Some virologists have depicted in their preprints that omicron is less pathogenic showing less severe clinical signs (weight loss), less viral load in both upper and lower respiratory tract than prior covid variants in Syrian golden hamsters. Alex Sigal- South Africa based virologist has clearly mentioned in Nature Reviews Immunology in accordance with Bentley et al.,2021 and McMahan et al., 2022 that omicron infection causes milder lung pathology. Lower viral pathogenicity and higher population immunity do not have to exclude one another. Omicron leads to less severe disease due to pre-existing immunity and if the viral component is as important as it seems, then the question is, what kind of covid variant will we get next? The emergence of another major variant of concern is highly probable as the virus has proven it can evolve to escape immunity in the current climate of infection.

However, many other scientists have dismissed the claims of omicron becoming a natural vaccine and it is too early to assume anything rather one must stay on guard and take all necessary measures and letting guards down in the face of a variant that appears to be infecting everyone is very dangerous to more vulnerable lot of people including elderly and immune-compromised. Karen Edwards, an epidemiologist at the University of California says more interactions between potentially infected people will give the virus more pathways to spread and if we had a variant that caused severe disease like Delta variant and was as transmissible as omicron, we wouldn’t want to see that.

On the other side of this long-term containment, lockdowns and resultant economic collapse bring to our notice that millions of workers in India are not covered by contracts and protections, stunted growth of children, malnutrition, malediction, an ailing health sector that is already packed with the covid patients, inappropriate behavior of masses and above all less scientific attitude of leadership are some of the factors that indicate catastrophe and will definitely intensify the covid-19 storm. This worrying dreadful situation will become even graver if diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening conditions is interrupted and the duration of physical distancing, lockdowns will have to stay in place is a big question for countries riddling with socio-economic and developmental challenges.

Last, but not the least, we need globally connected medical research, legitimate dissemination of knowledge at the right time, cooperative society and synergic cum high-minded leadership to combat these factors which indicative of a catastrophe.

The writer is assistant professor of zoology, Islamia College of Science & Commerce, Srinaga.

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