Omicron has a higher number of mutations than other Covid variants, which sometimes allows the virus to slip past antibodies created by vaccination of infection.
However, if the virus does enter the body, the T-cells - a type of white blood cell - will attack.
The new study from the University of Melbourne and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) involved investigators analysing over 1,500 fragments of SARS-coV-2's viral proteins, called epitopes, that were found to be recognised by T-cells in recovered Covid-19 patients or after vaccination.
The results, which have been published in peer-reviewed journal, Viruses, suggest Omicron is unlikely to evade T-cells, adding to the growing evidence from international research groups also investigating T-cell responses to Covid-19.
‘We believe this is positive news’
University of Melbourne professor and co-leader of the research, Matthew McKay, said: “Despite being a preliminary study, we believe this is positive news.
“Even if Omicron, or some other variant for that matter, can potentially escape antibodies, a robust T-cell response can still be expected to offer protection and help to prevent significant illness.
“Based on our data, we anticipate that T-cell responses elicited by vaccines and boosters, for example, will continue to help protect against Omicron, as observed for other variants. We believe this presents some positive news in the global fight against Omicron.”
However, according to researchers, the most concerning aspect of Omicron is the abundance of mutations in its spike protein, which is the primary target of Covid-19 vaccines. The spike allows the virus to attach and enter cells in humans.
Current vaccines induce neutralising antibodies, to block this process, however, these antibodies have been reported to be less effective against Omicron compared with previous variants.
In analysing virus epitopes from the spike protein that are targeted by T-cells in vaccinated or previously infected individuals, the study found only 20% showed mutations associated with Omicron.
However, researchers said that these mutations do not necessarily mean the virus will be able to evade T-cells.
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