THESE shocking images show how drastically mutated the Omicron variant of coronavirus is.
Illustrations from the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) reveal the large number of changes in the genetic makeup of the virus.
Researchers have warned that the Omicron variant has the most mutations they have ever seen.
Mutations are changes in the virus that may, or may not, give the virus extra capabilities, such as spreading faster.
With so many mutations, it raises the possibility that Omicron has a number of advantages over previous versions of Covid.
The most worrying thing is that it will weaken the effectiveness of our vaccines, which scientists will not know for sure for another few weeks.
Experts fear that it may make the vaccines 40 percent less effective in the best case, based on comparison with the Beta variant.
The COG-UK mappings of the variants show that Omicron has several times more mutations than Delta, Beta, Alpha and Gamma.
All are labeled as “Variants of Concern” (VOCs) under the World Health Organization because they are able to spread faster, increase the severity of the disease, or escape immunity.
Many of Omicron’s mutations cross over with those seen before in previously dangerous strains. However, some are new.
Delta, which is still dominant in the UK and globally, is considered the “fittest version we have seen to date” of coronavirus, said COG-UK Director Professor Sharon Peacock.
But early evidence suggests that Omicron has already toppled it in some parts of South Africa in a matter of days.
Cases are expected to keep popping up in the UK, with 32 yet to be identified in the UK and Scotland.
What are Omicron’s mutations?
Of the approximately 50 mutations, 32 are in the spike gene, including what is called the binding domain.
These are likely to change how the virus interacts with the immune system’s antibodies and how it penetrates human cells.
The spike protein is a vital part of the virus that allows it to lock into cells.
It is also the target of Covid vaccines, which were built against the original “Wuhan” strain of coronavirus. Therefore, if the tip protein is drastically different, antibodies may not recognize Omicron.
Raquel Viana, head of science at one of South Africa’s largest private testing laboratories, said she had “a sinking feeling” when she discovered the new strain while genetically testing positive inoculations in the country.
She told Reuters: “I was quite shocked by what I saw. I questioned whether anything had gone wrong in the process.”
Among Omicron’s mutations are P681H and N679K, which UCL’s Prof Francois Balloux said were “an unusually rare” combination.
It also carries K417N and E484A, which are the same as those in the Beta variant, which in studies have been shown to impair jab efficiency.
Prof Balloux said: “I would definitely expect it to be poorly recognized by neutralizing antibodies compared to Alpha or Delta. It is difficult to predict how transferable it may be at present.”
But so far, there is no clear evidence of exactly how Omicron will change the Covid outbreak picture.
It’s so new – only discovered last week – that scientists know almost nothing about the real impact it will have on the course of the pandemic.
Despite the high degree of uncertainty, England’s Deputy Chief Physician Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told people not to panic.
“As for the effects of the new variants, and how well the vaccine effectiveness will hold up, here I would like to be aware that this is not just doom and gloom at this stage,” he said.
“I do not want people to panic at this point. If the effectiveness of the vaccine is reduced, as it seems quite likely to some extent, the biggest effects are likely to be in preventing infections, and hopefully there will be less effects on prevent serious illness. “
Prof. Van-Tam said the booster campaign “has never been more vital than at this point”.
In a poll for The Sun, he said getting your booster is the best Christmas gift you can give yourself and your family.
A top official of the World Health Organization said today that vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself from coronavirus, amid fears of Omicron.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical director at the WHO, said: “Vaccines save lives.
“And we need vaccines to get into the arms of all those who are at risk in each country, not just in some countries, and not to add more vaccines to people who are already protected, but to get the first and second dose to them.People at risk in all countries.
“And it’s really important that this is crystal clear today, because there’s still a lot of uncertainty around Omicron, and this data will come in, and there are scientists around the world studying this.”
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