South African virology expert says omicron could 'outcompete' delta

A South African disease expert said in an interview published on Tuesday that the omicron COVID-19 variant could potentially "outcompete" the delta variant.

Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), gave this assessment while speaking to Reuters.

"We thought what will outcompete Delta? That has always been the question, in terms of transmissibility at least ... perhaps this particular variant is the variant," said Puren.

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According to Puren, who previously served as head of virology at NICD, scientists should know within about four weeks how well omicron can resist the immunity offered by COVID-19 vaccines. The virologist told Reuters that it was still too soon to say whether omicron was displacing delta in South Africa.

Numerous other leading health experts in the U.S. have given similar timelines as to when scientists will be able to tell if omicron can evade antibodies created from vaccinations. Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb estimated that early data from tests done on the blood of fully vaccinated people against omicron could be released as soon as next week.

Though studies on the variant have yet to come out, vaccine developers have so far stated that the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available should still protect against severe illness, even if the omicron variant evades the antibodies.

As Reuters noted, doctors in South Africa have given anecdotal accounts saying omicron appears to cause mild cases of COVID-19, though experts have pointed out that the severity of such observed cases could also be affected by the fact that omicron appears to be clustered in young people.