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Omicron coronavirus strain may greatly reduce effectiveness of vaccines, expert says

Weeks of tests are needed to determine the properties of the new strain, microbiologist Kelvin To notes

HONG KONG /XIANGGANG/, December 1. /TASS/. The new Omicron coronavirus strain may significantly decrease the effectiveness of existing vaccines, one of the leading microbiologists of the University of Hong Kong Kelvin To who participated in isolating the samples of the Omicron strain said on Wednesday.

"This particular strain has all the characteristics of previous mutations - and more," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "So I believe [existing vaccines] will not be as effective, but how much it will reduce efficacy is still hard to predict," the scientist added.

He explained: "Whether vaccines could be entirely ineffective, or reduce efficacy by 20% or 40%, is still too hard to say." The microbiologist added that weeks of tests are needed to determine the properties of the Omicron strain.

The team of scientists of the University of Hong Kong was first in Asia to successfully isolate the new strain from clinical samples which became an important step in researching the virus. They will now attempt to evaluate the transmissibility of the virus, the reaction of the immune system and the prospects of developing effective vaccines.

Hong Kong has documented three cases of the infection with the Omicron strain to date. The first one was imported, the second occurred in a quarantine hotel at an airport where the virus was transmitted from an infected passenger from South Africa to a Canadian residing across the hall. Both had been inoculated. On Monday, a third case was confirmed - the carrier was a 37-year-old man who arrived from Nigeria.

On November 26, a new variant of the coronavirus was identified in South Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.1.529 variant as a "Variant of Concern" and assigned it the Greek letter Omicron. In its statement, the WHO noted that "this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning." Several changes at once in the spike protein can potentially hinder the neutralization of the pathogen by antibodies which may impact the effectiveness of vaccines.