Omicron FAQ: 8 key issues to know immediately in regards to the new COVID variant

New COVID variant: What is omicron, where has it spread, are vaccines effective?

The omicron variant is elevating international concern.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For essentially the most up-to-date information and details about the coronavirus pandemic, go to the WHO and CDC web sites.

With the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 now confirmed in 18 states, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention, stated the variety of instances is “more likely to rise.” Though the delta variant of COVID makes up 99.9% of US instances, Walensky stated on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, omicron is spreading rapidly. “What we do not but know is how transmissible it will likely be,” she stated.

In response, the variety of vaccine pictures being administered is climbing, with the complete variety of pictures given over the past week the best since earlier this summer season.

There have been greater than 5.2 million reported deaths worldwide as a consequence of COVID-19.

Within the US, President Joe Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster pictures till extra data turns into out there. Specialists warning it could possibly be two or three weeks earlier than we all know precisely how contagious omicron is and if it may possibly trigger extra extreme sickness than different mutations of the virus.

To this point, the COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be extremely efficient in stopping hospitalization and dying, with people who find themselves unvaccinated being greater than 10 occasions extra more likely to be hospitalized if contaminated. Vaccine-makers are optimistic the present vaccines approved to be used within the US will present a level of safety towards omicron, too.

Listed below are eight necessary issues to learn about omicron immediately. For extra on COVID boosters, here is a trick to simply get an appointment and free journey. Here is how you will quickly get a COVID check equipment totally free and particulars on mixing and matching vaccines.

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Omicron confirmed in 18 US states

First, it was Minnesota and California. Now the variant has found in 18 states across the country, from Hawaii and Louisiana to Missouri and New York. The US and other countries were already bracing for an increased caseload as colder weather and holiday gatherings brought more people indoors together. Now, projections over a winter surge of the dominant delta variant join concerns about omicron’s spread.

Omicron could become the dominant COVID variant in Europe in months

In Europe, omicron could become the most common COVID variant in months, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

“Mathematical modelling indicates that the Omicron VOC is expected to cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months” due to early understandings of the omicron variant’s high transmissibility between people, the body said in a Dec. 2 briefing (PDF). 

Scientists studying the omicron variant in South Africa, where it was first reported to the World Health Organization, have said it’s spreading more than twice as fast as the delta variant. But what isn’t yet known is whether the spread is hastened because the mutations make it easier to spread among people, if vaccines are less effective against this strain or for some other reason. The study cited by The New York Times has not yet been published or peer-reviewed.

Omicron has similarities to the delta variant’s mutation

COVID latches onto cells using a spike protein in its structure. Omicron has more mutations than the delta variant, which is considered at least twice as contagious as previous strains. While it isn’t clear yet if omicron is more or less contagious than delta, the presence of those mutations is one cause of concern. 

That may be one reason countries around the world have banned travel from some countries in southern Africa and increased travel restrictions that include a negative COVID test 24 hours before travel, regardless of vaccination status.

It isn’t clear how current vaccines will respond to omicron

Scientists are testing whether omicron could cause breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated and reinfections for those who have antibodies from a prior COVID-19 infection. It may take two to three weeks before enough test data reveals how effective the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are in protecting against the omicron mutation. Scientists are hopeful, however, that the current vaccines will continue to protect against the new variant.

“We think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by omicron,” said Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech, during an interview with Reuters on Nov. 30. BioNTech worked with Pfizer to create one of the vaccines authorized in the US.

Still, the fact that omicron has rapidly mutated and spread has rung at least one alarm bell.

“The emergence of the highly mutated omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, leader of the World Health Organization, said on Nov. 29.


Drugmakers are exploring if the current vaccines are effective against the new variant.

Sarah Tew/CNET

COVID PCR tests can identify the omicron variant

Most PCR tests to identify the presence of COVID-19 in the body are free (COVID tests for international travel are the main exception). So it’s good news that the existing nasal swab test has been found to detect the omicron variant — a blood test or other procedure so far is unnecessary.

“Fortunately for us, the PCRs that we mostly use would pick up this very unusual variant that has a real large constellation of mutations,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, said Nov. 29 in a press briefing.

Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are evaluating Plan B 

Moderna: Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton told the BBC his company has hundreds of people examining the effectiveness of its current vaccine and booster with the variant. Moderna is also testing a COVID-19 vaccine that could protect against several mutated strains of the coronavirus looking at an omicron-specific booster vaccine. Burton said if Moderna needs to make a new vaccine modified for the variant, it could be available early in 2022.

Pfizer: A Pfizer spokesperson said the company is “constantly conducting surveillance efforts focused on monitoring for emerging variants that potentially escape protection from our vaccine.” The spokesperson said Pfizer could develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days.

Johnson & Johnson: Johnson & Johnson said it’s working with scientists in South Africa and around the world to evaluate the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine against the omicron variant and has begun work on a new vaccine designed for omicron, if needed.

Booster shots and vaccines are urged to help prevent omicron’s spread

On Dec. 2, Biden announced a plan to help protect the US against the omicron variant this winter. It includes:

  • Outreach programs to contact people eligible to receive booster shots.
  • Making at-home COVID tests “free” for everyone.
  • Tighter travel restrictions that require a negative COVID test 24 hours before departure.
  • Paid time off for federal workers to get booster shots.
  • Securing antiviral pills as a treatment for people who become infected with COVID-19 (these are recommended but not yet FDA approved).
  • Sending 200 million more doses of COVID vaccine to international countries in the next 100 days (280 million have already been sent).

Omicron is pronounced these ways

The World Health Organization assigns Greek letters to key COVID variants to help the public easily remember and pronounce the different mutations of the virus. When first announced, search interest in the Greek letters “omicron” and “omega” climbed as people looked for information on the new variant. So far we’ve heard the new omicron variant pronounced by global health leaders as OH-me-cron, OH-mih-cron and OH-my-cron (some of this boils down to ancient Greek). 

For additional COVID guidance, here’s what to know about new travel restrictions, how to store your vaccine card on your phone and what to do if you lose your vaccine card.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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