Travel bans being enforced by several countries in the light of the perceived threat from the Omicron variant of coronavirus may not make as much sense as striving for a universal vaccination requirement for all air travel.

Several countries, including the US, have chosen to impose a travel ban as a precautionary measure. But “travel bans could be at best modestly effective,” according to one section of experts in the US.

This is all the more so given the context in which a country’s own citizens currently travelling abroad would have to return home sometime. There is no guarantee that they would not carry the Omicron variant.

Unintended mixing likely

On the other hand, people from the affected countries could travel to those countries which have not declared a travel ban already. In this manner, unintended or accidental ‘mixing’ could happen, triggering transmission.

For instance, US citizens, lawful permanent residents and non-citizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents are exempted from the new restrictions. So, travel bans may or may not be practical, the US media quoted these experts say.

Universal vaccination requirements for all air travel would be a better bet against such avoidable mixing. Enforcing quarantine would be another, though it may not be politically palatable.

Uptick in cases in the US, says Fauci

Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Biden, said in an interview to CBS on Sunday that the US has started to see an uptick that had plateaued at around 70-75,000 Covid-19 cases a day to 80,000 lately. It has not yet reported an Omicron case.

“We certainly have the potential to go into a fifth wave,” Fauci said, adding that its magnitude will “really be dependent upon what we do in the next few weeks to a couple of months.”

The US still has an estimated 62 million people eligible to be vaccinated yet to get their shots. Adding this to those “who got vaccinated six, seven, eight, nine, or even 10 months ago, we see an understandable diminution in the level of immunity.” This is called waning immunity, which makes a case for boosters immediately relevant, Fauci said.

Vaccine makers at it

Meanwhile, vaccine makers have already started assessing the threat from Omicron and are discussing ways to address it. Moderna said that it's working quickly to test the ability of its vaccine to neutralise Omicron.

The new strain includes mutations ‘seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape," a spokesperson for Moderna said.

"The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity,” the spokesperson added.

Omicron-specific booster

If Moderna’s current vaccine and booster are insufficient against the variant, one possible solution is boosting people with a larger dose, undergoing testing.

Moderna is also evaluating two multivalent booster candidates to see if they provide better protection against Omicron - both of which include some of the viral mutations present in the variant. The company is also testing an Omicron-specific booster.

"For several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant," the spokesperson quoted Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel as saying.

BioNTech, the German company that partnered with Pfizer to make its vaccine, is investigating the impact of the variant on their shot, while Johnson & Johnson is statement testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron.