The Omicron variant: what we know and what we don’t know

Well, sooner or later you will have to learn your Latin alphabet, as the number of new coronavirus variants in nature shows no signs of slowing down. Just when you’ve started to get a little bored of Delta, some scientists are expressing concern about Omicron – a new variant that could create new headaches for healthcare workers and present a new danger to them. not vaccinated. How? ‘Or’ What a lot of danger? Well, let’s look at what we know and what we don’t know.

For starters, the World Health Organization called Omicron a “variant of concern.” A variant gets this label when signs suggest it might be more contagious than other variants, or its symptoms might be more severe or more resistant to standard public health guidelines. At the moment, it is not clear whether any of them (or all of them) is really the case – only that the WHO has good reason to investigate. It will take a few weeks. But in the meantime, here’s what we know.

Is the Omicron variant more contagious?

COVID-19 is mutating to become more and more transmissible. Delta was more heritable than Alpha, which is why it became the dominant variant earlier this year. Is Omicron more transmissible than delta? It’s hard to say but, if so, those who have no immunity in the United States – still a fairly large number, since only 70% of Americans have received at least one dose – will likely experience it. bigger in the weeks and months to come. .

The cause of concern comes from South Africa, one of the most responsible countries in the world in terms of genetic sequencing. They were the first to realize that COVID-19 cases were on the rise and highlighted the omicron variant as a possible culprit. Now, it’s also possible that South Africa’s relatively low vaccination rate and / or a rash of recent super-spraying events are causing the spikes. We just don’t know.

Does the Omicron variant cause more serious illness?

The next question is whether people who catch Omicron are more likely to get seriously ill or even die, and this is another for which we do not yet have good answers.

Vox spoke with Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. He said he was monitoring infection rates in Israel. Israel has one of the best vaccination rates in the world, so researchers can use the rates there to theorize how the variants might affect other countries. At this point it looks like Omicron may have milder symptoms than the other variants, which would be great news – but the UN also notes that most cases so far have been reported in younger people, who generally fare better against COVID-19 than older people. We’ll just have to stay tuned.

Are vaccines effective against Omicron?

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This is the big question. Vaccines are our most effective tool against the virus, but the vaccines in question have been designed to target a specific type of virus. If this virus mutates, the vaccine may not target it as effectively.

Now the key phrase here is “as effectively. In all likelihood, any COVID-19 vaccine is better than nothing at all against a variant. “Let’s be clear: Omicron is extremely unlikely to make COVID-19 vaccines completely ineffective,” Dean Ashish Jha of Brown University School of Public Health wrote in The New York Times. So if you are vaccinated you can breathe more easily. Even better if you have your booster dose.

Only How? ‘Or’ What will it be effective against Omicron? We will need more time to resolve this. It’s possible that this mutation has several ways around the vaccine, but there’s no reason to panic just yet. If you haven’t been vaccinated, now might be the time to take the plunge and boost your immune system. Regardless of incoming data revealed on Omicron, scientists remain on high alert for a variant that Is are more transmissible or cause more severe symptoms than previous iterations of the virus. In the meantime, the best we can do is stay alert and use the tools available.

As Jha wrote in The Times, “The world can afford to handle this variant. Let’s use them.

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