A leading Australian infectious disease expert is worried the "large number of mutations" in the Omicron variant will mean the current vaccines will be less effective.
Dr Paul Griffin, the director of infectious diseases at Mater Health in Brisbane, told ABC on Sunday morning reduced vaccine protection is his "greatest concern" as scientists scramble to understand more about the new strain.
"It is the most mutated so far with a large number of mutations," he said.
"I guess the most concerning element is around 32 of those mutations are in the spike protein, so that's the part of the virus that binds to human cells but also that our vaccines target as well as a lot of our antibody therapies," he explained to ABC News on Sunday morning.
"So if that changes significantly, the greatest concern is that our vaccine protection might reduce, but that's yet to be established. That's all work that has to happen."
Too soon to judge Omicron risk
Dr Griffin admitted it’s too early to tell whether Omicron poses a greater risk than previous strains such as Delta.
"I don't think we're back to square one," he said.
"I mean, I think a lot of us thought this is what this virus is going to keep doing, going to keep evolving and we are going to keep finding new variants and the way we've controlled this virus so well so far will still work, will still help us."
He added that Australia is in a better position than when Delta emerged earlier this year and measures like masks, social distancing and good ventilation will still offer protection against the highly-infectious virus.
"Having our vaccination rate as high as it is is still going to afford us a great deal of protection, no matter what variant," he said.
Stern warning ahead of summer
However, Dr Griffin did urge Australians not to become complacent.
"We will still need testing… make sure that if anyone has any symptoms they get tested straight away so we can track what is happening with cases and variants," he said.
"We've earn't some significant restorations of freedoms, but certainly we can't consider this virus to be behind us, because it is going to keep coming.
"We need to get the balance right, so we can enjoy our summer holidays while not allowing things to get ahead of us through complacency."
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