Omicron variant will spread very quickly in India: Juliet Pulliam

The Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus will spread rapidly in India, according to a forecast Julia Pulliam, Director of the South African DSI-NSF Center of Excellence in Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis. Pulliam told Teena Thacker in an interview that it is advisable to prepare for a worst-case scenario when planning a hospital. Processed excerpts:

What do you know so far about the mutation?

The virus infects people who have had a previous infection at a much higher rate than previous variants we’ve seen. Preliminary reports suggest it is also leading to an increase in breakthrough vaccine infections.

What do you think India will be like given its population density?

Given what has been seen in South Africa it is now being seen in other parts of the world, I expect the variant will spread very quickly in India.

Have you seen a community in South Africa that has expanded so far? Is it more contagious than the Delta variant?

The Omicron subline BA.1 is now the dominant variant that circulates in South Africa. This replacement was driven by the rapid spread of the virus in the community. Our preliminary analyzes suggest that the rapid growth of this variant is due to a combination of immune evasion and higher transmissibility.

How can you prepare to use Omicron in hospitals and elsewhere?

We do not yet know much about the severity of the disease caused by this variant. I assume it will generally be milder in people with a history of infections or vaccinations. However, patterns of disease severity similar to previous variants may appear in people without some form of protective immunity. I think it makes sense to prepare for a worst-case scenario when planning a hospital.

Do the vaccines work well against the mutation?

With this variant, there appears to be an increased risk of breakthrough infections; However, it is too early to say whether these infections are likely to lead to serious illness.

Do you think booster shots will help deal with Omicron?

There is some early evidence from the UK that people who have received boosters with mRNA vaccines (Pfizers in particular) appear to offer some protection from symptomatic disease for this variant. Have you seen it spread in children so far? In India we have yet to start vaccinating children. The variant is sure to spread to children, and I think vaccinating children with vaccines that have been shown to be safe and effective in these populations would be a good idea.

India has yet to decide on booster doses or additional doses for immunocompromised people. In the course of the new variant, experts want to wait. What do you think?

This variant is spreading incredibly quickly and I don’t think it makes sense to wait with important decisions.