Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Real Reason Why Omicron Is a ‘Variant of Concern’

Why is the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, considered by global “public health” authorities to be a “variant of concern” (VOC)?

It’s not because this mutated version of the coronavirus is deadlier. The data are in. Officials are openly acknowledging (and the mainstream media are candidly reporting) that infection with Omicron is associated with a substantially reduced risk of severe disease.

Of course, at the time Omicron was dubbed a “VOC”, they didn’t yet know for certain that Omicron would be less virulent. Severe disease lags identification of infection, so although initial indications were that people infected with Omicron were having milder symptoms (or none at all), it was theoretically possible that, later in the course of the disease, people would become as sick (or sicker) than those infected with earlier variants.

Still, the early indications were that Omicron was associated with less severe disease. So, if it wasn’t out of fear that Omicron was going to cause a higher rate of hospitalizations and deaths, then why was Omicron deemed so particularly concerning as to warrant the VOC label?

A partial explanation is the speed at which Omicron was taking over as the predominantly circulating strain in the regions of South Africa where it was first identified. Indeed, once introduced into the United States, Omicron replaced Delta with astonishing speed and already accounts for over 98% of infections, according to genomic sequencing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While there could be other reasons for a variant to become predominant (including random chance), given the striking speed of the takeover, a reasonable conclusion could be drawn early on that Omicron is more highly transmissible than Delta (which, we were told, was more highly contagious than variants that preceded it). This increased transmissibility evidently gave it the selective advantage it needed to outcompete Delta.

But the fact that a variant is more transmissible is not by itself concerning. After all, if more people become infected but fewer people become severely ill or die from the virus, then that is a good thing. It means population immunity is building and the epidemiological outlook is changing from pandemic to endemic.

(While myopic policymakers in many countries foolishly aimed at the unattainable goal of “zero Covid”, it was clear to sensible observers from the start that SARS-CoV-2 was not going to go away, that we would have to adapt to live with it just as the virus would naturally adapt itself for the human host. Omicron appears at present to represent a leap toward endemicity, in which the virus constantly circulates but has a low infection fatality rate and typically causes mild symptoms, like a cold or mild flu.)

So, the evidently greater infectiousness of Omicron by itself does not explain the “variant of concern” status. What else is there?

Well, there is the related fact that a large number of mutations were identified with Omicron and that most of these mutations occurred in the spike protein.

That discovery caused concern to “public health” authorities for one obvious reason: the protection afforded by COVID-19 vaccines was dependent upon induction of immune responses against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.

Of course, responses against the spike protein are important with natural immunity, too, but the immunity induced by infection includes a much broader repertoire of immune responses that includes antibody and T cell responses to the nucleocapsid and membrane proteins of the coronavirus.

Transparently, the real concern was that Omicron would escape vaccine-induced immunity (while being more greatly conserved with natural immunity). In other words, the real concern was not that Omicron would cause more human devastation than prior variants but that it posed a threat to policymakers’ mass vaccination programs.