How omicron broke through coronavirus vaccines


The Omicron variant has outcompeted Delta to become the dominant strain of coronavirus across the world. One reason for that is its ability to sidestep vaccines, causing breakthrough infections.

Breakthrough infections happen because the immune system’s response to the prior infection or to vaccination was specific to that type of virus, and, unfortunately, the new variants can sometimes evade that immune response.


Omicron is stronger than earlier strains because of these things right here, called spike proteins. This is the part of the virus that is responsible for entering human cells and is also the main target of our immune systems in fighting off the virus.

Omicron has shown multiple mutations in its spike protein, aka it has more ways to invade.

So it ends up being kind of a lock-and-key situation both for entering our cells and also, for our immune system, recognizing and fighting the virus, and that’s why changes in that spike protein is really an ongoing game, essentially, where our immune system needs to be able to recognize it, and the virus is trying to change it.

The surge in Omicron is also arriving at a key point in the pandemic. Vaccinations have been available in the US since December 2020, with the majority of eligible Americans receiving their shots between April and June 2021.

The defense systems provided by vaccines weaken over time, with some studies showing a significant drop-off in antibodies after six months. The first Omicron cases in the US were detected in December 2021, making it a prime time for a strong variant to take hold. And that’s why you’re seeing strong recommendations for booster vaccines if it’s been more than six months after complete vaccination, for instance, and we may even need additional boosters in the months ahead.

And, finally, relaxed health policies have created an environment for Omicron to spread more easily.

What we do know is that these layers of protection, like wearing a mask or physical distancing, reducing travel and gatherings indoors, for instance, are very important.
We have seen over time, of course, people getting very tired of all of these alterations
to our normal life flow and our working lives and our social lives.

People, I think, have gathered more and traveled more in recent months, and that, certainly, has added to the Omicron variant to really cause the surge that we’re seeing now.

Even with an uptick in breakthrough infections, vaccines continue to be the best protection from coronavirus and protect against severe symptoms and death.

The unvaccinated individuals are at the highest risk of not only getting the infection but also getting hospitalized, having severe disease, and dying. And so, I think, when we see surges,
it can be really frightening, and a lot of people are maybe jumping to the conclusion
that we need a different vaccine or we need to wear higher level of respiratory protection.

I think we need to, basically, though, just keep doing what we know works, and that is wearing a mask and having physical distancing, being really smart about indoor gatherings and our activities. I think we can continue doing what we need to do if we just modify it and do it safely.

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