New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: Much is not known about the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 that was detected first in South Africa in November. Experts believe that this strain of the infection, dubbed as a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is much infectious than the Delta variant that had caused the second wave of the pandemic in India, but is less deadly.

While it is still unknown whether Omicron will affect vaccine efficacy or not, experts from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) suggest that Bharat Biotech's antiserum Covaxin may be more effective against the new strain of coronavirus. Explaining why Covaxin might be more effective against Omicron, ICMR experts said that the new strain can evade vaccine with a focus on spike protein due to its higher mutations.

However, the experts said that Omicron will have a lesser chance of evading Covaxin which is a "virion-inactivated vaccine" and covers "the entire virus". "Earlier it was found that Covaxin was effective against all the variants such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. So, we expect that it will be effective against the new variant as well," The Hindu BusinessLine quoted an ICMR expert as saying.

Dr Samiran Panda, head of epidemiology and infectious diseases at ICMR, also expressed hopes that Covaxin can work better against Omicron than other vaccines "where the focus is principally on the spike protein". However, he stressed that more research is needed over this as a lot of what is said about vaccines and Omicron is "conjecture".

"The RBD had two mutations in the Delta variant and here there are 10. If the structure of the domain changes then how well the lock and key arrangement works with other vaccines is a question. In the case of Covaxin it is a little like a Bruce Lee assault, when three different and potentially fatal sites are targeted at the same time," he told The Print.

Covaxin, which got a nod from the WHO recently, has been developed by the Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the ICMR - National Institute of Virology (NIV). It was given emergency use authorisation (EUA) in January this year by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), along with Serum Institute of India's Covishield, which paved the way for the launch of the nation-wide anti-coronavirus vaccination drive in India.

As per phase-three clinical trials data published in the Lancet peer review, Covaxin has a 77.8 per cent efficacy rate against symptomatic COVID-19. It also said that the vaccine will have a 93.4 per cent effectiveness against those who have severe symptoms of COVID-19.

"Safety analysis demonstrates adverse events reported were similar to placebo, with 12 per cent of subjects experiencing commonly known side effects and less than 0.5 per cent of subjects experiencing serious adverse events," said Bharat Biotech in a statement citing the study by the Lancet. "Efficacy data demonstrates 63.6 per cent protection against asymptomatic COVID-19, 65.2 per cent protection against the SARS-CoV-2, B.1.617.2 Delta and 70.8 per cent protection against all variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus".

Posted By: Aalok Sensharma