By Stephen Londe, MD, FACC, FACS / Original to ScheerPost
In 1796 an English physician, Edward Jenner, observed that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox were immune to smallpox. He surmised, rightly, as we now know, that the disease was related. Smallpox, which has killed hundreds of millions of people dating all the way back to prehistory, is caused by the virus variola and is related to cowpox, catpox, and several other virus-caused “poxes (Orthopoxvirus family).” Our present day mandated vaccine against smallpox is also a related virus, vaccinia, which causes a small localized lesion leaving a scar and immunity against the variola or smallpox virus. Thus we are used to accepting a minor disease to protect against a lethal disease.
Is Omicron the Cowpox of Covid-19?
To date, the World Health Organization, WHO, has recorded no deaths from the Omicron Covid-19 variant. What is this newly identified Covid-19 Omicron variant? Identified first by scientists in Africa it has now been reported in Europe and the United States and likely everywhere. Our experience with Omicron is recent and limited with little data or experience on which to rely. There are more than thirty mutant differences in the Omicron spike protein alone. This is worrisome, as our Pfizer and Moderna vaccines depend on stimulating our immune recognition of the Covid -19 spike protein and the Omicron spike protein is different; it could render these vaccines less effective or non-effective. We will answer this question as our experience with this variant increases. Omicron is reported by our African physician colleagues as being relatively benign, causing no deaths and no hospitalizations. This may be the result of other mutations that differentiate it from the more deadly variants now causing disease around the world.
So, could Omicron be the cowpox of Covid- 19? Is this relatively benign version the vector of immunity? Is nature providing us with the perfect vaccine that will spread itself in the world population causing mild disease and providing immunity that will, at long last, end this pandemic? Should we, in fact, facilitate its spread? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, get yourself vaccinated.