Omicron will dominate and overwhelm the world in 3-6 months, says the doctor

SINGAPORE – The new Covid variant omicron is likely to “overwhelm the whole world” in the coming months, according to a Singapore-based infection doctor.

While vaccines against the strain can be developed rapidly, they must be tested over three to six months to prove that they can provide immunity to the variant, said Dr. Leong Hoe Nam at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital on Wednesday.

“But honestly, omicron will dominate and overwhelm the world in three to six months,”[ads1]; he told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia.

Delta, the strain that currently accounts for 99% of Covid infections, began to become more common in the Indian state of Maharashtra in March 2021, and was globally dominant in July, according to Reuters.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on Monday that it will take months to develop and send a vaccine that specifically targets the omicron variant.

Pfizer chief Albert Bourla also said the shots could be ready in less than 100 days, or just over three months.

“Nice idea, but honestly, it’s not practical,” Leong said of a vaccine specifically targeted at omicron. “We will not be able to rush the vaccines in time, and when the vaccines arrive, virtually everyone will be infected omicron given this high risk of infection and transmissibility.”

Experts do not know exactly how contagious the highly mutated omicron variant is, but the virus’ spike protein – which binds to human cells – has mutations associated with higher transmission and a reduction in antibody protection.

“The profile of the mutations strongly suggests that it will have an advantage in terms of transmissibility and that it can avoid the immune protection that you would get,” US infection expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Protection against current vaccines

That said, some doctors believe that the existing vaccines could provide some protection against the new variant.

Our bodies generate a “whole host of different antibodies” in response to vaccines, said Dr. Syra Madad, a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“I think our current vaccines will hold up to some degree, with this new variant,” she told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday, noting that the vaccines were able to provide protection against delta.

“It may reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness by a few notches, but it has not yet been seen,” she said. Current vaccines, along with boosters, should still provide a “good level of protection,” she added.

Leong agreed that a three-dose vaccine regimen would probably protect against serious illness, but pointed out that many countries still have low vaccination rates.

He said omicron “threatens the whole world” with a sudden increase in cases, and the health care system could be overwhelmed, even if only 1% or 2% of cases end up in hospital.

Omicron was first discovered in South Africa and was identified as a variant of concern by the WHO last week. It has since been reported in several other places, including Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Portugal.

For now, however, Leong said we should continue to roll out vaccinations, keep our distance, wear masks and not be too worried.

Madad repeated the same feeling. “We continue to take Covid-19 prevention measures on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Posting it is really the best approach here.”

– CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury, Spencer Kimball and Yen Nee Lee contributed to this report.

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