The recent discovery of a new and more complex COVID variant has caused a huge alarm for government authorities, medical professionals, and scientists all over the world.
There are still many questions that are yet to be answered about the Omicron variant, but a new study conducted by South African researchers has found that the risk of reinfection is considerably higher with this particular variant.
Risk of reinfection
Using COVID positive samples collected at least 90 days before 27 November, they observed that of the 2.8 million samples, 35,000 were possible reinfections. The authors noted that this pattern had not been seen with the Beta or Delta variant—making it a matter of serious concern. Co-author of the study, Juliet Pulliam, published their findings on Twitter and wrote:
These findings suggest that Omicron’s selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals.
This could indicate the virus has the ability to evade immunity gained from prior infections, but authors agree that more work needs to be done to find out to what extent this is possible. Harry Moultrie, an infectious disease expert who is also the co-author of the study, said in a statement:
Our most urgent priority now is to quantify the extent of Omicron’s immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants and impact on disease severity.
Spike in South Africa
The study has yet to be peer reviewed and backed by further studies, but authorities at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) have also reached the same conclusion. Anne vot Gottberg, microbiologist at NCID said:
We believe that previous infection does not provide them protection from infection due to Omicron.
As reported by The New York Times, NCID found that the Omicron variant was responsible for three-quarters of the cases in South Africa in November, and scientists believe that this could be a major reason behind the spike.