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(IANS)

As we rapidly approach the third year of COVID-19, all the twists and turns that new emerging variants keep throwing at us is making this pandemic seem like a reality TV show. From Omicron subvariants and Delta’s re-emergence to the development of a super-vaccine for all coronavirus variants, the cycle keeps turning on and on.

In the midst of these developments, new research has now indicated that if you have been infected by the COVID-19-causing coronavirus’ Omicron variant after your initial vaccine doses, you may possess far greater resilience and protection against a wider spectrum of coronavirus variants!

In fact, this Omicron infection may offer a better immune response than even a booster shot among vaccinated individuals, suggests the pair of studies published in a preprint server bioRxiv by a collaborative effort between COVID-19 vaccine maker BioNTech SE and the University of Washington.

First discovered in November 2021, the Omicron variant has since spread to most countries around the world. Despite it presenting a reduced risk of hospitalisation, Omicron is still a severe risk, especially owing to the fact that it is vastly more contagious than Delta and the original variants.

Superior antibody production

A part of the study looked into the production of antibodies when exposed to the variant and the vaccines. When our body is exposed to the virus, it produces antibodies that seek to neutralise it. Vaccines, on the other hand, help by providing our bodies with a blueprint on how to produce antibodies effectively to neutralise the virus as fast as possible.

The study showed that patients who had contracted Omicron had antibodies that vastly outperformed others, and were even capable of attacking the distinct Delta variant.

This very superability to recognise and immunise external threats has led experts to believe that we have reached a point where we may want to consider developing more effective vaccines to boost people.

In fact, BioNTech’s scientists have even stated that the data suggests giving patients an Omicron-adapted booster dose rather than multiple ones with the original vaccinations would be more beneficial.

To B or not to B

Both the teams also looked at another crucial part of the infection response system: B cells. These are a type of white blood cells that form the “memory antibody” function after being immunised against a specific invading pathogen. In simpler terms, they help remember what the virus is and serve as a trigger to spur the immune system into action.

The BioNTech team discovered that people who had an Omicron breakthrough infection had a greater response from these helpful cells than individuals who had a booster dose but no infection. However, this broad response was missing in unvaccinated people who had caught Omicron as their first exposure to the virus.

Updating booster doses

Apart from this outcome, scientists have also shown that when vaccinated patients are infected by the Delta virus, they begin to display a broader immune response to the virus.

The importance of creating a more resilient vaccine that applies across a range of variants cannot be underestimated. Pandemic restrictions are being dropped around the world amidst the Omicron insurgency and this, coupled with the rapid transmissibility of the variant, gives it ample time to mutate into new variants.

Future mutations may not be as benign as Omicron, and the pandemic’s outcome is difficult to forecast because it depends not only on population immunity, but also on how much the virus mutates.

“Maybe this is an indication that an updated booster might be a good idea,” said Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at The Rockefeller University who helped lead a team that looked at breakthrough infections in a group of vaccinated people in New York City.

Amid fresh outbreaks in China and North Korea, this news offers hope to millions around the world who have already contracted the superspreader variant that they might not be as susceptible to any future mutations of the virus.

However, researchers have warned that despite the extra protection, people shouldn’t seek out an Omicron infection in response to these findings.

The study was published in the preprint journal bioRxiv and can be accessed here.

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