The Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is said to be much more infectious than the other variants, is, however, causing milder infections, less hospitalisation and deaths which is leading to the notion that it can act as a natural vaccine.
Recently, a Maharashtra health official also claimed that Omicron will act as a natural vaccine and may help in COVID-19’s progression towards the endemic stage.
Noted virologist Shahid Jameel said the notion that Omicron is a natural vaccine is a dangerous idea spread by irresponsible people.
“It breeds complacency and is rooted more in pandemic fatigue and the inability to do more, than in evidence available at this time,” he told PTI.
Jameel, the former head of the advisory group to the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INASACOG), said those who advocate this don’t take into account “long COVID” about which very little is understood.
“Especially in India, where malnutrition, air pollution and diabetes are rampant, to willingly let people be exposed to a virus about which you understand little is not good science and public health,” he said.
Giridhara R Babu, professor and the Head of Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, said however mild Omicron is, it is not a vaccine.
“There are deaths and hospitalisations due to this variant. Stay away from misinformation. Compared to vaccination, natural infection cannot protect the population (against death or hospitalisation) against any variant (Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta). Proponents of herd immunity are saying it again that Omicron would provide herd immunity. Evidence matters, not opinions,” he said.
Shuchin Bajaj, founder director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, said there may be long term effects of the disease and people need to be careful about it.
“It has been shown that it can be seen persisting for more than six months in various other organs in addition to lungs, like heart and brain and kidneys etc, even after very mild infections. So we don’t really know what long term effects it can cause. We are already seeing a lot of long COVID patients with brain fogging, inappropriate sinus tachycardia,” he said.
“So we should not really think of this as a vaccine. It’s not really a vaccine, we have had deaths due to Omicron. We have had ICU admissions due to Omicron. So it is a much milder version compared to Delta but still, it is a virus and we need to be careful,” he said.
Yash Javeri, Head, Critical Care, Regency Health, Lucknow, however, said that due to Omicron’s higher infectivity coupled with less severity, it may help pause the pandemic
“As a result, the whole community becomes protected, not just those who are immune. An infection with the Omicron variant not just induces an immune response against this variant but also offers heightened protection against the Delta variant, a South African study has found. Due to its higher infectivity coupled with less severity, Omicron may raise the herd immunity still higher and help pause the pandemic,” he said.
Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely.
ICMR director general Balram Bhargava last week said that hybrid immunity, which is developed as a result of vaccination and natural infection, mounts a stronger response against COVID-19 and its variants.