Scientists explain why getting infected with omicron doesn't protect you from other COVID variants

Luz Pena Image
Saturday, May 21, 2022
Here's why omicron infection doesn't protect you from other variants
Gladstone Institutes discovers why COVID-19 omicron infection doesn't give you natural immunity against other variants like delta and alpha.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Researchers in San Francisco discovered new characteristics of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena went inside the Gladstone Institutes lab where scientists say their discovery is shedding light on why vaccinated and boosted are getting infected.

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When the omicron variant was first detected last November, researchers at the Gladstone Institutes dove in to understand what's making this variant so transmissible.

After collecting blood samples from dozens of COVID patients this week they published their groundbreaking research.

"Samples collected from omicron infected individuals which were not vaccinated before show very limited response against other variants," said staff research scientist at the Gladstone Institutes, Rahul Suryawanshi.

Meaning if you are unvaccinated and get infected with omicron you are not protected against future variants.

"What we found is that omicron is so specialized that it actually only prepares us against itself," said Dr. Melanie Ott, Senior Investigator and director of the Gladstone Institutes of Virology and Immunology.

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Prior to this study, scientists believed that earlier strains of the virus would create enough natural immunity for weeks and even months if you were unvaccinated. That's not entirely the case with omicron.

"Omicron compared other variants replicates to a lesser extent and causes less tissue damage as compared to the earlier strains. However, is not that it doesn't establish infection. It clearly establishes infection and elicits an immune response against the virus," said Dr. Ott.

These scientists believe their study sheds light on why people are getting reinfected.

"The immunity is not set in stone. The immunity changes and unfortunately decreases over time. The other thing is that the variants that are now arising are actually selective based on their ability that it successful succumbents the immunity that is existing," said Dr. Ott.

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Dr. Nadia Roan says their findings also show an interesting response to getting infected if you are vaccinated. They call this hybrid immunity.

"There is a silver lining. We found that omicron infection in the context of vaccination. In other words, breakthrough infection that does illicit a pretty broad response that would recognize different variants," said Dr. Nadia Roan, Associate investigator at the Gladstone Institutes.

This research highlights the importance of getting vaccinated even after getting infected.

"Someone that was infected with omicron alone their antibodies probably would do great at protecting from future reinfection with omicron itself, but other variants that would emerge in the future it probably won't do such a good job at," Dr. Roan.

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