COVID-19: Forget Omicron, Pirola is here!

Article published 13 September 2023

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COVID-19: Forget Omicron, Pirola is here!

While much of the world goes about its business and worries about other things, COVID-19 merrily mutates away.

IN a media briefing, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the WHO continued to see “concerning trends for COVID-19 ahead of the winter season in the northern hemisphere”.

“Deaths are increasing in some parts of the Middle East and Asia, ICU admissions are increasing in Europe and hospitalisations are increasing in several regions”, the Director-General said.

“Globally, there is not one variant that is dominant”, he added. “The BA.2.86 variant has been detected in small numbers in eleven countries. The WHO is monitoring this variant closely to assess its transmissibility and potential impact.”

The Pirola variant

The reason that the BA.2.86 variant has attracted the WHO’s interest, according to various news reports, is because of its apparent ability to circumvent the defences put up by COVID-19 vaccinations. BA.2.86 – nicknamed Pirola – appears to be going through a similar development as its predecessor Omicron.

The Australian Financial Review writes that Pirola “stands out in the Omicron family tree because of how much it has morphed. It has more than thirty mutations on its spike protein, the part of the virus that pierces through the cell and that vaccines train the body to fend off. Experts believe the antibodies forged through battles with earlier variants will have a difficult time recognising this new foe.”

What is not yet clear is whether Pirola is able to cause a surge in infections, like Omicron.

“Nobody yet knows whether 30-odd Pirola mutations will be able to evade the immunity built up by jabs and past infections”, health writer and GP Phil Whitaker said in the New Statesman.

“They are less likely to succeed when faced with an immune response that has been recently heightened by a booster shot. Hence the sudden imperative to crack on with vaccinating.”

This refers to public health officials in the United Kingdom, who are worried with winter in the offing. They are gearing up for a renewed vaccination campaign.

Australia’s COVID advice

Australia is about to go into summer, which reduces the risk of a COVID-19 surge. However, ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) has updated its advice for the COVID-19 booster dose, although it didn’t mention the Pirola variant.

ATAGI noted that older age continues to be the biggest risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease. COVID-19 vaccination reduces the risk of serious illness and death.

ATAGi advises aged care residents who have not yet received a booster dose this year to get one.

If it has been six months since receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, ATAGI recommends an additional dose for people aged 75 or older.

People aged 65-74 should also consider a booster, following discussion with their health care provider.

ATAGI’s advice echoes the advice of the World Health Organisation:

“One of WHO’s biggest concerns is the low level of at-risk people who have received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine recently.  Our message is not to wait to get an additional dose if it is recommended for you.

“The increase in hospitalisations and deaths shows that COVID is here to stay, and that we will continue to need tools to fight it”.

So, don’t delay if you are in one of the age categories for which ATAGI recommends a booster shot.

It will certainly give you more peace of mind, may reduce how ill you get if you get infected and may even save your life.

Also read:

Don’t jig the jab!

Is COVID over or is the world over COVID?

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