Omicron may be helping to eradicate the Delta and other variants.
A new lab study out of South Africa has shown that individuals who have recovered from an Omicron infection could be more likely to fend off the Delta variant. The researchers contend that, although in the short-term Omicron will lead to a surge in new cases, in the long term, it will help the number of serious cases and hospitalizations to die down. Omicron, in general, has proved to be less potent that other variants of the coronavirus.
“Omicron is likely to push Delta out,” said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, who led the new study. Sigal is also a professor and member of faculty at the Institute and an associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“Maybe pushing Delta out is actually a good thing, and we’re looking at something we can live with more easily and that will disrupt us less than the previous variants,” he said. Sigal’s study was posted to the Africa Health Research Institute’s website and has not yet been published in a research journal.
Carl Pearson, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the findings were consistent with what England is experiencing. Pearson explained, “Omicron arrives and grows rapidly, and the Delta trend switches to declining.”
Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, also showed his support, adding, “We are seeing Omicron exponentially rise while Delta cases are falling. This suggests to me that Omicron is outcompeting Delta for susceptible individuals, leaving them less susceptible to Delta in the aftermath, and driving down Delta cases.”
When people began getting infected with the coronavirus in 2020, their bodies developed crucial antibodies and built-up immunity. As a result, scientists determined that it would be rare for a individual to be reinfected.
But starting in late 2020, new coronavirus variants were detected, and some spread more quickly than others (i.e., the Alpha). Others, like Beta, had adaptations that allowed them to evade antibodies, which meant that it could hit a person regardless of vaccination status and despite whether they had already had the original strand.
Scientists previous reported that the Omicron, which came onto the scene in November 2020, spread more quickly than the Delta. Omicron was also able to infect vaccinated people and those who had contracted earlier variants. Sigal’s team conducted an earlier study that showed Omicron was able to find its way around antibodies from vaccines and earlier variants.
In the more recent study, Sigal and his team ran the same experiment, but this time on people who had recovered from the Omicron. There were only 13 study participants, so it was a very small sample. Seven patients were vaccinated and six were not.
“This was very difficult because of the holiday period,” he explained. “Nobody really wants to stick around and be part of a study.” The researchers found the patients’ blood contained a high level of antibodies against Omicron and that these antibodies were also effective against Delta.
“I’d bet we can rule out that it’s trending to a place where it locks into a single variety that’s long-term immunizing and becomes a childhood infection like measles,” Sigal said. “But that’s also still possible.”