Roughly two in every three children aged between one and four years old in the United States have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to a nationwide analysis1. Infections in that age group increased more than in any other during the Omicron wave, which researchers say demonstrates the variant’s high transmissibility.
Researchers looked for COVID-19 antibodies in blood samples from more than 86,000 children under 18 years old — including some 6,100 children aged between one and four. In the youngest children, the number of infections more than doubled, from 33% to 68% between December 2021 and February 2022.
The third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India sparked by the new variant of concern omicron has stoked fears about an unprecedented rise in cases, followed by a rise in hospitalisations and an overburdened healthcare system — as was seen in the ghastly second wave of April 2021.
India’s metropolitan cities are the epicentre of the third wave of COVID-19 cases. With 2,135 infections of the new variant across the country as of January 5, 2022 — 653 in Maharashtra and 464 in Delhi alone — omicron is fast establishing its dominance.
With 11,665 new cases in the last 24 hours, dedicated COVID-19 hospitals in the national capital are preparing for an unprecedented rise in cases, even though evidence, for now, suggests that omicron infections remain mostly mild.
Down to Earth visited a few hospitals in the national capital to take a pulse of the situation.
Early indications from South Africa and the United Kingdom signal that the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is less dangerous than its predecessor Delta. Now, a series of laboratory studies offers a tantalizing explanation for the difference: Omicron does not infect cells deep in the lung as readily as it does those in the upper airways.
“It’s a very attractive observation that might explain what we see in patients,” says Melanie Ott, a virologist at the Gladstone Institute of Virology in San Francisco, California, who was not involved in the research. But she adds that Omicron’s hyper-transmissibility means that hospitals are filling quickly — despite any decrease in the severity of the disease it causes.
The Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was first detected in the Tshwane district of South Africa’s Gauteng province between November 21 and 27. Now, a leading health professional has prepared a detailed profile of the first patients. And the picture that emerges is encouraging.
Fewer people have been administered specialist care than previous waves of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The in-hospital death-rate has been significantly lower. There has also been a decline in the average length of stay in the hospital.
The results offer reason for hope even as the Omicron variant has now spread to all South African provinces and triggered the fourth wave of COVID-19 in the COVID-19. It has also spread to 40 other countries.
At the September COVID-19 Summit hosted by President Biden, a December target of 40-percent vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Currently, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of them.
As new COVID-19 variant Omicron makes its way to more countries, and has renewed concerns about its health impacts, experts have warned that its emergence is a stark reminder of the real danger of global vaccine inequality.
If the omicron variant of the coronavirus is different enough from the original variant, it’s possible that existing vaccines won’t be as effective as they have been. If so, it’s likely that companies will need to update their vaccines to better fight omicron. Deborah Fuller is a microbiologist who has been studying mRNA and DNA vaccines for over two decades. Here she explains why vaccines might need to be updated and what that process would look like.
1. Why might vaccines need to be updated?
Basically, it’s a question of whether a virus has changed enough so that antibodies created by the original vaccine are no longer able to recognize and fend off the new mutated variant.
If currently available vaccines continue to protect us from severe disease and death, which seems likely at this stage, vaccinated people in developed countries should be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
But with a yawning gap between vaccination rates in high- and low-income nations, Omicron could present a major problem for the world. It could cause a further wave of preventable disease and premature death in developing countries, and exacerbate poverty in parts of the world that are already struggling with the pandemic.
And unless governments take urgent action to correct these inequities, we risk the emergence of further variants, some of which may evade vaccines.
Since early in the COVID pandemic, the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa has been monitoring changes in SARS-CoV-2. This was a valuable tool to understand better how the virus spread. In late 2020, the network detected a new virus lineage, 501Y.V2, which later became known as the beta variant. Now a new SARS-CoV-2 variant has been identified, known as B.1.1.529. To help us understand more, The Conversation Africa’s Ozayr Patel asked scientists to share what they know.
What’s the science behind the search?
Hunting for variants requires a concerted effort. South Africa and the UK were the first big countries to implement nationwide genomic surveillanceefforts for SARS-CoV-2 as early as April 2020.
Variant hunting, as exciting as that sounds, is performed through whole genome sequencing of samples that have tested positive for the virus. This process involves checking every sequence obtained for differences compared to what we know is circulating in South Africa and the world. When we see multiple differences, this immediately raises a red flag and we investigate further to confirm what we’ve noticed.
At 7:30 a.m. on 24 November, Kristian Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at Scripps Research, received a message on Slack: “This variant is completely insane.” Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh was reacting to a new SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence found in three samples collected in Botswana on 11 November and one picked up a week later in a traveler from South Africa to Hong Kong.
Andersen looked at the data and then replied: “Holy shit—that is quite something. The length of that branch …” A few minutes later he added: “Just had a look at the list of mutations—so nuts.”