Editor’s Note: Dr. G. Paul Evans is the CEO and president of Velocity Clinical Research, which has expanded its operation to now include 29 sites and is now  “the largest fully integrated site management organization,” according to the company. 

DURHAM – There’s a new variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, now known as the “Omicron” variant.

But just because there’s a new variant, and there’s uncertainty about what it means, medically or economically, people can remain calm while waiting for more information to become available, Dr. G. Paul Evans, the president and CEO of Velocity Clinical Research told WRAL TechWire in an interview Monday.

“We have been here before, at the beginning of the Delta spike, none of us knew what the impacts of the Delta variant would be,” said Evans.  “Until otherwise, it probably serves us well not to get too panicked about Omicron until we know more about it.”

But that could take up to two weeks, said Evans.

That’s an impressive feat of science, said Evans, and is due in large part to the ability of existing vaccine manufacturers such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna to research the new variant and its potential impact on the existing vaccines.

“The mRNA vaccines are relatively straightforward, from a vaccine standpoint, to modify,” said Evans.  “So if we do identify that the variant can defeat the vaccine, we will have the ability to modify it, quickly, to address Omicron.”

That’s a positive factor that people concerned about the emergence of a new variant can consider, said Evans.

“The positive line that we should be telling people is that these vaccines, this mRNA technology, is very adaptable, that even if we do identify a problem, we should be able to modify the vaccine effectively.”

It’s too soon to say what might happen, a statement from Evans shared with WRAL TechWire earlier in the day noted.

“This latest variant is far more transmissible than previous ones and there are concerns that it will escape currently-approved vaccines, thanks to the mutation on the virus’ spikes,” the memo stated.

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“We need data from populations where there is a high vaccination rate,” Evans wrote in the memo.  “At the moment, reports are only available from African countries, where healthcare systems aren’t as well-equipped and there are lower vaccination rates than western countries.”

But, said Evans, we won’t have to wait long.

In the meantime, said Evans, “none of us are safe until all of us are safe.”

It isn’t enough to focus efforts on achieving a high vaccination rate in countries such as the United States or countries in Europe, said Evans.  It’s a global challenge.

“Most of the world is still unvaccinated,” said Evans.  “It is in everybody’s interest to become vaccinated.”

Think of it this way, Evans said: the virus, in order to transmit, needs to move to new human hosts.

“What the vaccine does is that it takes away the number of hosts that the virus can infect,” said Evans.  “That’s why people should receive the vaccine, because it reduces the virus’ ability to spread.”

Plus, said Evans, given the uncertainty of the Omicron variant – and of future potential variants that could emerge – people who are not yet vaccinated may now wish to consider becoming vaccinated.

“The better our immune systems are, the better chance we will have at fighting any variant right now,” said Evans.  “As an individual, that’s one action item that can be done.”

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“This variant may be more effective against the vaccine, in terms of spreading within the vaccinated population, but the way we need to look at this is that the vaccine boosts the immune system, it causes the immune system to put up all the factors that stop the virus from spreading in the body,” said Evans.

For those already vaccinated, a booster shot could make sense, said Evans, because the booster shot could boost the body’s immune system to combat against potential infection from any of the variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

There’s other promising news, said Evans, which is that the people who volunteered for preliminary clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of the now-approved vaccines remain involved, and will help public health and medical experts assess the effectiveness of booster shots and the effectiveness of existing vaccines against new variants such as Omicron.

“These people have all done us a service, they’ve helped us get these vaccines approved and available, and they’re still helping us,” said Evans.  “Those people that took part in studies really are providing a service for us all.”

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