«There is no need to launch global alarmism. This variant is not necessarily more aggressive. First of all, it is necessary to verify if it will begin to circulate in Italy and, above all, if it will also circulate among the vaccinated ». Fausto Baldanti, Director of Virology and Microbiology at San Matteo di Pavia, isolated the first case of Covid in Europe, that of patient zero in Lodi. And in his laboratory they sequence 20% of all the Spikes circulating in Lombardy.
No Omicron for now?
«The presence of Omicron must be contextualized. In South Africa there is a very low vaccination rate, a situation not comparable to ours. For now we see the Delta variant circulating predominantly, born in India last summer, while Alfa has not only practically died out, but has been downgraded to a non-worrying variant ».
WHO has confirmed that Omicron has not caused any deaths to date.
“In fact, this variant may not be more aggressive just because it has many mutations in the Spike. For the Beta, also born in South Africa, there was the same apprehension. On paper and in vitro he had a low response to the vaccine. Then, however, it became extinct ».
But Omicron seems more contagious.
“It’s all to be verified. Contagiousness depends on the vaccination rate: the more susceptible individuals there are, the more the virus circulates as it happens in South Africa. In Europe we are in a different context, there are many vaccinated ».
No alarms for those who got immunized?
«I would wait until there is an alarm. Direct checks are needed. Delta, very contagious, also responded less to vaccines in vitro. In real life, the vaccine barrier has contained it and deaths are a tenth of those of last year ».
What are your impressions as a researcher?
“Not all mutations are said to benefit the virus. And let’s not forget that despite Delta being an aggressive and very contagious variant, the number of infected is ten times lower than last year ».
So can the vaccine also protect against Omicron?
“And why shouldn’t he? Before saying it doesn’t work, it should be documented that it spreads in a context of largely vaccinated people. Which I don’t think is happening ..
Omicron appears to cause only mild symptoms. Could this virus have gotten any better?
“If it only causes colds, the problem rectifies itself. And I am surprised that South Africa has launched an international alert in the presence of mild cases. It was necessary to pay more attention to communication: it was necessary to observe the phenomenon in the laboratories, with attention, coldness and calm ».
How long will it take to clarify?
“Let’s see what happens between now and Christmas. If this variant is more contagious and escapes vaccination pressure, it will also circulate in Lombardy, where the vaccination rate is the highest in Europe. To date, however, we have not identified any in our laboratory ».
What do you say among experts?
«We are in communication with a network of national and international laboratories: we have seen the birth and death of many variants. Omicron does not catch us unprepared ».
Will an annual recall be necessary for Covid?
«We have seen and documented that multiple exposure to the Spike protein of the virus (as in the case of those recovered and then vaccinated with two doses) increases the immunological response enormously both in intensity and in its duration. The antibodies of these subjects neutralize all the variants identified so far and persist at high levels after at least six months “.