Omicron, which has spread widely across the globe and in many regions of Canada, is one of the most transmissible variants to emerge during the pandemic. While uncertainties remain regarding the virulence of Omicron, there is increasing clarity regarding the elevated potential for infections and reinfections to occur, even in vaccinated individuals.
Omicron has spurred a mobilization at the Coronavirus Variants Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), which has been mandated by the federal government to coordinate, facilitate, support, and accelerate rapid response research. With over 90 CoVaRR-Net members coming together from across the country, these scientists offer up their talents and expertise to dedicate themselves to helping Canadians understand the risks posed by Omicron and other variants of concern.
Various streams of research being engaged by CoVaRR-Net member labs
Scientists in CoVaRR-Net-member laboratories are using shared viral genetic sequences and bio-banked samples from vaccinated or previously infected people who have not had Omicron to measure how well antibodies can neutralize the virus. Working with both the authentic virus in laboratory assays within high-containment laboratories, as well as pseudotyped virus (viral particles designed to resemble the variant through incorporation of the spike protein), the CoVaRR-Net team is analyzing the ability of Omicron to evade the immune system. They are also seeking to understand the secrets of Omicron’s increased transmissibility. Our team of data modellers and epidemiologists are also working to predict spread projections and calculate transmission rates of the virus, and our scientists are probing and sequencing wastewater for Omicron RNA to gain insight into community prevalence. The acquired data will then be compiled and analyzed to make public health recommendations using the best available evidence. We are also working with Indigenous communities to share information.
The Network, whose scientists collaborate with colleagues around the world, is also monitoring Omicron’s spread, which has now reached over 65 countries. While information coming out of the Southern African regions continues to be very important, investigators also need to account for regional variabilities including different rates of prior infection or vaccination, so Canadian scientists are seeking out epidemiological data from this country, as well as multiple countries abroad.
More to come, as the lab work continues.