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What do we know so far about the rapidly expanding Omicron subvariant?

Since the first strain of omicron BA.1, it has been known to spread faster than previous strains of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

The BA.2 subvariant has now appeared. Infected at least 400 people in the UK in the first ten days of January. And its existence has already been proven in more than 40 countries, writes Deutsche Welle.

PANGO states that 79% of proven infections with this strain have been confirmed in Denmark. They are followed by the United Kingdom (6%), India (5%), Sweden (2%) and Singapore (2%). However, it should be noted that the detection of this type of virus depends on the ability to sequence PCR tests in individual countries.

How dangerous is omicron BA.2?

The rapid spread of this subvariant suggests that it could be even more contagious than the first variant of the omicron BA.1 strain. The UK Health and Safety Agency (UKHSA) has rated BA.2 among the “strains being monitored”.

“It’s in the nature of viruses to multiply and mutate,” said Mera Chand, director of the British Health Agency. “So one can expect more strains during the pandemic.”

Because health facilities are investigating the genetic structure of the virus, it is possible to identify new strains and assess how dangerous the new mutations are. The analysis of the subvariant BA.2 is still ongoing.

“There is still no convincing evidence that BA.2 causes a more severe course of the disease than BA.1,” Chand said.

Vaccination is important because of new mutations

British Health Minister Sajid Javid added that the emergence of a new strain shows how important vaccination is.

“I encourage everyone to protect themselves and their loved ones and now take an increased dose,” he said.

French epidemiologist Antoine Flaho told the French news agency AFP: “What surprises us is the speed with which this sub-variant, which is widely circulated in Asia, has spread to Denmark.”

To date, BA.2 infections have not had a more severe course of disease than BA.1. French Health Minister Olivier Veran is also considering the emergence of a new subspecies of the omicron strain.

“We now know that BA.2 more or less corresponds to the features we know from omicron,” he told AFP.

Is there a danger of recombination of delta and omicron?

German virologist Christian Drosten of the Sharit University Clinic in Berlin said in an interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk that merging the delta with one of the submocron’s microns could develop an even more dangerous virus. Omicron has certain mutations in the surface protein, the so-called spike (spiked) protein, with the help of which it can more easily bypass the body’s immune system.

Particularly dangerous could be the recombination of a virus carrying the spiky protein omicron and the rest of the coronavirus strain delta genome, Drosten said. This would mean linking the strongest traits of the two soybeans.

“Something like that has already been described, so we have to be afraid that something like that could happen,” Drosten said.

Recently, a scientist from Cyprus reported a new type of virus called “deltacron”, but it may be a mistake, scientists say.

Vaccine adaptation

However, scientists are convinced that adapting vaccines could put an end to such new strains. German vaccine maker BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer have begun conducting a clinical trial for an omicron-strained vaccine. Its safety, tolerability and effectiveness need to be tested, both companies say.

The study included 1,420 people who were divided into three groups. The first group includes those who received two doses of the vaccine 90 to 180 days ago and who will now receive one or two doses of the vaccine adapted for the omicron strain. This group includes 600 people. Equally large is the second group, which includes those who received a booster dose, who will receive another standard dose of vaccine or one dose of vaccine tailored to the omicron strain.

The third group includes about 200 unvaccinated people and those who have not had COVID-19 before. They will receive three doses of a new vaccine adapted for the omicron strain.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not said whether it considers a vaccine adapted to the omicron strain necessary. But BioNTech and Pfizer announced two weeks ago that they had begun developing a vaccine tailored to the new strain of the coronavirus. They expect to produce 50 to 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March or the beginning of April. Both BioNTech and Pfizer estimate their production capacity for this year at around four billion doses of the vaccine.

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