But despite the deluge, Omicron is said to cause milder infections, less hospitalisation as well as deaths compared to some of its predecessors like Delta. This has led to the notion that Omicron may act like a “natural vaccine”.
Experts have put forth various assumptions and facts regarding Omicron’s role in the ongoing pandemic.
There has been active debate among experts that since Omicron is a relatively weaker strain, it may not produce a severe disease, yet induce a powerful natural “herd immunity” similar to what a vaccine does.
Noted pulmonologist Dr Puneet Khanna from Manipal Hospitals, shed some light on the notion and explained that there is a hypothesis for continuous survival.
“The viruses tend to evolve towards a less severe strain that can be easily transmitted but is less fatal. Making humans very sick is not in the interest of the virus. Thus, there is hope that in the future, the strain will turn weaker and cause a mild infection quite similar to common flu. But it has to be remembered that viruses keep on mutating and so later versions may get even dangerous mutations or become even milder,” he told timesofindia.com.
Dr Vishal Sehgal, president of medical services at Portea Medical, opines that a variant of Covid-19 can act as a natural vaccine or prove beneficial even if less life-threatening. However, he added that it is something yet to be seen.
“When we talk about the milder version of the rapidly spreading Omicron infection acting as a natural vaccination, theoretically such a possibility exists. However, unlike a clinically developed vaccine, there is no predictability or understanding of how different the impact of the infection could be from one person to another,” said Dr Chetan Shah, cardiologist and president clinical governance at Connect and Heal.
“One person might witness improved immunity whereas another might find that the infection is not as mild as expected. Therefore, it is not advisable that people deliberately try to get infected or be careless about it. The best approach would be to get vaccinated and adhere to Covid-appropriate behavior, and let nature take care of itself,” Dr Shah told timesofindia.com.
Many experts also believe that it could be dangerous to believe the “natural vaccine” theory since people can become complacent towards important protective measures like social distancing, masking and personal hygiene.
Pulmonology specialist Dr Ravi Shekhar, additional director at Fortis Escorts Hospital, said though natural infection confers some immunity against all viral infection, including Covid, it is not completely true.
“The major limitation of this notion is the huge mutation potential that we see with this virus,” he said.
Dr Harish Mallapura Maheshwarappa, an intensive care physician, said: “This virus may cause sufficient immunogenicity in the body to produce antibodies, but the question is – are these antibodies efficient enough to provide some natural protection against other variants of Covid? Only the ongoing research will add more evidence whether Omicron can be considered a natural vaccine.”
For Artemis Hospitals’ Dr Namita Jaggi, it is too early to say whether Omicron will act as a natural vaccine. “Pandemics have traditionally speaking petered out by having variants that are milder and less severe till they finally die out. So no it is not a cause of concern, rather we must optimistically hope that this is probably moving towards the end of the pandemic,” she said.