There are many COVID-19 variants with different transmission, morbidity, mortality, and ability to evade detection/immunization/treatment. According to the risk from low to high, World Health Organization (WHO) classifies them as:
1. VUM (Variants Under Monitoring)
2. VOI (Variants of Interest)
3. VOC (Variants of Concern)
Last Friday (November 26), WHO urgently announced the fifth type of VOC, named after the Greek letter Omicron, the variant also goes by the scientific name B.1.1.529.
Delta, the predecessor of Omicron, was discovered in India in December 2020, upgraded to VOI in April 2021, and further upgraded to VOC in June, which took half a year.
Omicron was reported to the WHO by South Africa on November 24 this year, and it was listed as a VOC only two days later.
Currently designated Variants of Concern (VOCs)
Why is the WHO so nervous? Because Omicron carries a lot of mutations.
As a new mutant strain, Omicron has 32 mutation sites on the spike protein of the novel coronavirus, which is twice as many as the Delta. And there are 10 mutations in the receptor binding domain, which are 5 times as many as Delta. Spike protein is a key protein that mediates the entry of viruses into human cells, and is closely related to the speed of virus transmission and immune escape. A receptor-binding domain (RBD) is a key part of a virus located on its ‘spike’ domain that allows it to dock to body receptors to gain entry into cells and lead to infection. Mutations in the spike protein may change the characteristics of virus invading cells and reduce the immune protection of existing COVID-19 vaccines and neutralizing antibody therapies. Preliminary evidence indicates that Omicron may be more infectious than Delta.
Model of structure of novel coronavirus spike receptor-binding domain (pink) complexed with its receptor ACE2 (blue). (Source:Volodymyr Dvornyk/Shutterstock.com)
In the face of the menacing Omicron strain, companies such as Sinovac, Cansino, Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca have all expressed their active response.
Sinovac Biotech: Attach great importance and actively respond to Omicron
On November 28, Sinovac Biotech stated that it will pay close attention to the new variant of the novel coronavirus variants Omicron, collect and obtain relevant information and samples, and understand the impact of the virus on existing inactivated vaccines as soon as possible. If necessary, Sinovac Biotech will quickly advance the development and mass production of new vaccines, and have the ability to guarantee vaccine demand.
CanSinoBio: Has begun to develop vaccines against mutant strains
On November 29, Cansino Biotech stated that it has begun the development of a vaccine against the new mutant strain of the new coronavirus, Omicron. In view of the advantages of CanSino's biological adenovirus vector technology platform and mRNA technology platform, once it is found that the protection of existing vaccines has decreased, CanSinoBio has confidence to produce a new vaccine against mutant strains in the shortest time.
Moderna: Development strategy for Omicron
On November 26, Moderna announced its development strategy for Omicron. The authorized booster vaccine mRNA-1273 (50μg dose) is being used to test its efficacy against Omicron variants, and the relevant data is expected to be announced in a few weeks. If it cannot effectively deal with Omicron, Moderna will develop it from the following three aspects.
Firstly, test the efficacy of higher doses of mRNA-1273 (100 μg) in healthy volunteers. At present, the safety and immunogenicity research of inoculating high dose mRNA-1273 in 306 volunteers has been completed.
Secondly, to test the efficacy of two multivalent candidate booster vaccines (mRNA-1273.211 and mRNA-1273.213) against Omicron.
Thirdly, quickly advance the development of a candidate booster vaccine for Omicron (mRNA-1273.529).
Pfizer/BioNTech: A vaccine against variant strains can be developed and produced within 100 days
On November 26, Pfizer/BioNTech stated that it has begun to evaluate the effectiveness of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine against the Omicron variant, and results will be available within two weeks at the latest.
At the same time, if new virus variants appear, Pfizer and BioNTech can develop and produce related COVID-19 vaccines within 100 days to deal with "vaccine escape" variants. But it needs to obtain regulatory approval.
Johnson & Johnson: The effectiveness of Ad26.COV2.S vaccine is being evaluated
On November 26, Johnson & Johnson stated that it was testing the effectiveness of the new crown vaccine Ad26.COV2.S (JNJ-78436735) against the Omicron strain.
JNJ-78436735 is an adenovirus vector vaccine developed and produced using the AdVac adenovirus vector platform. It is also the first single-dose vaccination vaccine that has been urgently authorized by the FDA.
In the past few years of the pandemic, countries around the world have accumulated enough experience in the prevention and control of COVID-19, and major pharmaceutical companies have gained rich experience in the development and production of COVID-19 drugs. We can deal with Delta, and we can definitely defeat Omicron!
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 WHO Names New COVID Strain Omicron, Declares it a 'Variant of Concern'
 Coronavirus Resource Center