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Omicron Variant can Cause Mild Illness

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 may be less efficient at infiltrating the lungs and spreading from cell to cell, compared with other versions of the coronavirus, early studies of human cells in a lab dish suggest. This may help explain why some early data from countries such as South Africa and England suggest the strain causes less severe disease.

Omicron may not invade lung cells efficiently, the new study, posted Tuesday to the preprint database bioRxiv, confirmed that the variant dodges most of the antibodies made by fully vaccinated individuals.  Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases said that a “booster” dose of the Pfizer vaccine significantly increased the neutralization power of vaccinated people’s antibodies, “though we’d still expect a waning in immunity to occur over time.

The research has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, but the findings hint “that Omicron mutations present the virus with a double-edged sword: it’s got better at evading the immune system, but it might have lost some of its ability to cause severe disease. Scientists need to confirm that these results from experiments in lab dishes match what happens in human patients, and that Omicron mutations actually influence the severity of infection.

Omicron has more than 30 mutations in the genes that code for its spike protein, the part of the virus that plugs into cells to trigger infection. Of those, 10 code for parts of the “receptor binding domain” (RBD), or the specific portion of the spike protein that latches onto cells.

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