‘Worst can be behind us if we vaccinate enough people’: Akiko Iwasaki at HTLS

Immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki said the genome sequence surveillance is important to tackle the coronavirus disease that is constantly mutating. 
Dr Akiko Iwasaki proposed mucosal vaccines for emerging Covid-19 variants like omicron(HT photo)
Dr Akiko Iwasaki proposed mucosal vaccines for emerging Covid-19 variants like omicron(HT photo)
Updated on Nov 30, 2021 11:32 PM IST
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By, New Delhi

Dr Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told health communications specialist Sanchita Sharma in a conversation during the 19th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Tuesday that the omicron variant of Covid-19 carries more mutations.

“We don't know how virulent the omicron variant is, or how fast it spreads, but it does have more mutations,” Dr Iwasaki said with a note of caution.

The top scientist said that nasal vaccines are a key part of the vaccine development process to fighting emerging mutant variations like the omicron.

She also raised concerns over the efficacy of pre-existing immune responses to omicron variant, which has more than 30 mutations. 

“If it turns out that this variant is indeed evasive, what we need to do is develop new vaccines,” the professor said.

Speaking on booster shots for Covid-19, which is rapidly mutating, Dr Iwasaki said the pattern of the virus may make it necessary for earlier booster shots than that was suggested until now.

“Looking at new variants, I think there is a need to look at the possibility of administering booster shots earlier than the six-month gap after the second dose, ” she said. 

Click here for full coverage on Hindustan Times Leadership Summit

Speaking on 'Long Covid', the scientist said there is still not a universal definition of Long Covid, even as she said men are more at risk of contracting Long Covid. 

“Long Covid is a serious problem, and it is happening in 10-30% of survivors. Males are at higher risk in case of long and serious Covid,” she said.

Stressing on the need for immunising as many people, she said, “The percentage needed to achieve herd immunity changing due to new and highly transmissible variants. The needle keeps going up and up, we need to immunise more and more people.”

She, however, said the percentage of herd immunity for omicron was not known yet. 

She also expressed concern over the earlier delta variant, which is still extremely transmissible, and the latest omicron variant. “I really hope the Omicron variant, after this, doesn't lead to a fourth wave of the pandemic,” Dr Iwasaki said.

Speaking on vaccine hesitancies and resistance of some people towards following Covid-19 protocol, such as wearing of masks and maintaining phyiscal distancing, she said mandatory vaccinations very important to contain the virus.

“The worst is yet to come if we don't get more people vaccinated. However, with some countries getting a significant number of their population vaccinated gives me hope that the worst is behind us,” Akiko Iwasaki highlighted. 

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