Five Things You Need to Know About the New Omicron Variant
The Coronavirus pandemic disrupted lives in every corner of the world. As the world reopened after 18-20 months of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns and things started resuming, a new variant of the coronavirus was identified in South Africa that left the scientific community worried. The new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529 is known as ‘Omicron’ by World Health Organization (WHO) on 26 November. The WHO also classified the new variant as the “Variant of concern”.
Here are five things we know about the new omicron variant:
- Why is Omicron a variant of concern? What are its symptoms?
Not just the COVID-19 virus, but all viruses mutate over time. This is a natural phenomenon. During this process, some mutations or combinations of mutations may change the way the virus behaves. Omicron is of concern because it has different mutations, some of which have been associated with the risk of increased transmission and possible immune damage. Thus, there is a chance that people may be infected by the Omicron variant even if they have developed some natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection or vaccination.
According to CDC, the Omicron symptoms looked similar to other coronavirus variants, like cough, cold, sore throat, and fever. Apart from the common COVID-19 symptoms, patients infected with the Omicron variant also complained of a scratchy throat, nasal congestion, dry cough, muscle pain, and lower back pain.
It was also noted that most of the patients infected with Omicron did not lose their sense of taste or smell, which is a common symptom of other variants of COVID-19. Doctors also reported that most of the patients who were infected recovered with hospitalizations.
- Is it more transmissible, more deadly?
According to scientists, the Omicron variant is 4.2 times more transmissible than the delta variant in its early stage. The CDC also states that anyone with omicron can easily transmit the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or do not show any symptoms.
However, this variant is just a cause for concern and not a cause for panic.
Experts believe that more research is required to know if omicron infections in COVID-19 survivors and people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death when compared to other variants of COVID-19.
- Will the current vaccines work?
With other variants, like delta, the CDC announced that vaccines remained effective at preventing severe illness and death.
In the same way, current COVID -19 vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths from omicron.
However, even people who are fully vaccinated are becoming victims of Omicron. Thus, scientists are considering a booster or third dose of COVID-19 vaccines for those who are fully vaccinated with the first two jabs. Companies like Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are expected to release their booster doses that could fortify protection against the Omicron variant.
Pfizer recently announced that they would be able to develop and produce a “tailor-made vaccine” to fight omicron in about 100 days.
- Is a prior COVID-19 infection effective against the Omicron variant?
Studies have reported that people who have recovered from a coronavirus infection are still vulnerable to getting reinfected with the Omicron variant. Due to its large number of mutations, the Omicron variant evades immunity from past infection or vaccination according to the latest reports.
However, studies have also reported that people previously infected with Covid-19 and those vaccinated will have some ‘stronger than basic’ defense against the Omicron strain of coronavirus.
Therefore, you should get vaccinated even if you’ve been formerly infected with COVID-19. While people who recover from COVID-19 may grow some natural immunity to the virus, there is no evidence of how long it lasts or how well you are protected. Vaccines are the only way to offer you more reliable protection.
- What can we do as individuals to stop the spread of the Omicron variant?
As of now, the most important thing as an individual you can do to reduce transmission and protect yourselves and your family against the variant is to get vaccinated.
As we wait for more information about how effective the current vaccines are in protecting against the new variant, all the WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines have proven effective in preventing severe illness and death from the virus.
Not only does vaccination protect you and your family from COVID-19 infection, but it also protects your neighbors and communities by preventing the spread and mutation of the virus.
Additionally, you should also continue to follow all the COVID-19 protocols such as wearing masks, using sanitizer, social distancing, and avoiding large crowds.
Concerns are swirling globally and people are already worried about what Omicron will do over the next few months. Scientists can already see that Omicron is highly transmissible and is adept at evading immunity. Thus, researchers are racing to know more about the new variant and figure out what will be the impact in the months to come.