Explained: Can Omicron act as a natural vaccine? Know truth behind this viral notion

Omicron is spreading at a rapid rate, almost five times quicker than its previous variants. This has alarmed countries around the world. However, many assumptions, speculations and facts have surfaced about the new coronavirus variant.

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It has been over two years since the world is fighting Covid 19 pandemic. As the world continues to battle with the virus, it is rapidly mutating, raising concerns of health experts across the globe. Now, a new Covid variant named 'omicron' has knocked on our doors.

Many assumptions, speculations and facts have surfaced about the new coronavirus variant. While the worrisome mutation has affected various countries, including India, there have only been a few severe cases so far.

The extensively mutated variant, on the other hand, is spreading at a rapid rate, almost five times quicker than its previous variants. This has alarmed countries around the world, and health officials have placed restrictions and urged everyone to follow Covid appropriate behaviour.

Amid the rising number of Omicron cases, several notions like "Omicron will work as a natural vaccine" or "the variant increased immunity" have surfaced on the internet and other platforms. However, experts have dubbed such claims as a “dangerous idea” by irresponsible people who don’t take long Covid into account.

Know more about Omicron

In India, the number of Omicron cases has surged to 1525. Delta variant which generated the second COVID-19 wave in India and Omicron could combine to form a "tsunami" of coronavirus infections, according to the WHO's chief. This would put "immense pressure on fatigued health workers and health systems."

While the Omicron has already become the dominant variant in the United States and parts of Europe, it is only known to cause milder disease and experts suggest a lower risk of hospitalisation. However, "consistent data" suggests that the new variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant, according to WHO.

Omicron- A natural vaccine?

Since the Omicron induces milder illnesses, fewer hospitalizations and fewer deaths, it has been suggested that the new variant of concern could work as a natural vaccine.

"This is a positive trend, and we hope it continues. If this happens, Omicron will act as a natural vaccine and may assist in the disease's (COVID-19) progression to endemic stage," Dr Pradeep Awate, the state's surveillance officer said.

However, noted virologist Shahid Jameel believes that it is a dangerous idea spread by irresponsible people.

"It breeds complacency and is based more on pandemic fatigue and the incapacity to do more than the data available at this time," Jameel said.

Those who promote the natural vaccination theory, according to Jameel, ignore the impacts of "long Covid." "It is neither good science nor public health to willingly expose people to a virus about which you know little, especially in India, where malnutrition, air pollution and diabetes are common," he added.

Meanwhile, the head of Lifecourse Epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India, Giridhara R Babu, warned people to avoid this misinformation, claiming that the Omicron variant has resulted in deaths and hospitalizations.

"Natural infection, in comparison to vaccination, cannot protect the population (against death or hospitalisation) from any variant. Herd immunity proponents are saying it again that Omicron would provide herd immunity. Evidence matters, not opinions," he added.

Which one is better? Natural immunity of Covid vaccine-induced immunity

Since the onset of coronavirus pandemic, immunity has remained a topic of debate. Natural immunity can last from 6 months to a year, according to scientific evidence, but it is said to be at its peak for the first 90 days after infection and then begins to wane.

COVID vaccines, on the other hand, are believed to provide longer-lasting immunity. Neutralizing antibodies have been found to persist in the presence of emerging variants that are more resistant to these antibodies, according to some researches.

Experts, however, have warned against decreased vaccine immunity in light of the newly discovered COVID-19 variant Omicron. The heavily mutated variant is said to have an immune escape mechanism that allows it to largely evade vaccine-induced immunity.

That is why the health officials and scientists have suggested another dose of Covid vaccine called "precaution dose or booster dose." Even though, the dose earlier considered sufficient can prevent severe illnesses and minimize the risk of hospitalization and death, the sudden increase in Omicron cases have skyrocketed the demand for vaccine boosters.