Omicron variant: 7 issues to know in regards to the new COVID pressure at the moment

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

The omicron variant is elevating world 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.

Almost two years after the primary COVID-19 pressure launched a pandemic inflicting greater than 5.2 million reported world deaths, a brand new variant could also be on the rise: omicron. Found final week in South Africa, the omicron COVID variant has appeared in at the least 24 nations and is spurring world leaders to attempt to include its unfold — all whereas scientists and infectious illness consultants rush to grasp this pressure’s variations and results.

World leaders and well being organizations presently view omicron as a variant of concern, however not panic. Within the US, President Joe Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster photographs till extra data turns into obtainable. A lot stays unknown, however the image turns into clearer daily. Specialists warning it may very well be two or three weeks earlier than we all know how contagious omicron is and if it may possibly trigger extra extreme sickness than different mutations of the virus.

Thus far, the COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be extremely efficient in stopping hospitalization and demise, with people who find themselves unvaccinated being greater than 10 instances extra more likely to be hospitalized if contaminated. And vaccine-makers are optimistic the present vaccines licensed to be used within the US will present safety in opposition to omicron, too.

Listed here are seven essential issues to find out about omicron at the moment. For extra on COVID boosters, here is a trick to simply get an appointment and free trip. This is how you will quickly get a COVID check equipment at no cost and particulars on mixing and matching vaccines.


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Omicron is already confirmed in multiple US states

First, it was Minnesota, then California and now Colorado. Omicron isn’t just in the US, it’s in three separate time zones. And confirmed cases are expected to increase. The US and other countries were already bracing for an increased caseload as colder weather and holiday revelry drove more people indoors together. Now, concerns over a winter surge of the dominant delta variant join concerns about omicron’s spread.

The omicron variant is thought to be highly contagious

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.

Current COVID PCR tests can identify omicron

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 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.

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, said uring an interview with Reuters on TuesdayBioNTech 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.

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


Sarah Tew/CNET

Booster shots and vaccination are considered the best prevention right now

On Thursday, Biden announced a plan to help protect the US against the omicron variant this winter. It includes, among other things:

  • 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.)

Moderna, Pfizer and other vaccine makers have a 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.

Omicron is pronounced like this

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. The new omicron variant is pronounced either OH-me-cron or OH-my-crondepending on whether you studied 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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