Paynesville –The discovery of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in South Africa on November 24, 2021 is attracting concerns. Considering the threat from the coronavirus pandemic and how it is posing massive challenge to global health, news of another variant has also sparked fear. But what do we know about the Omicron variant, so far?
New information about the virologic, epidemiologic, and clinical characteristics of the Omicron variant is rapidly emerging, according to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. This means there are limited information about this new variant.
On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 as a Variant of Concern (VoC) and named it “Omicron”. This was based on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution.
Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available, the WHO has said.
According to our search, it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible – more easily spread from person to person – as compared to other variants like the Delta variant. According to the WHO, the number of people testing positive for Covid has risen in South Africa, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.
Analysis of the changes in the spike protein indicates that the Omicron variant is likely to have increased transmission compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it is difficult to infer if it is more transmissible than Delta, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Severity of Disease
According to the World Health Organization, it is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggest that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.
Currently, there is no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants because understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks, WHO says. And the US CDC adds that “preliminary information from South Africa indicates that there are no unusual symptoms associated with Omicron variant infection, and as with other variants, some patients are asymptomatic”.
It has also been established that all variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.
Is the Vaccine Effective against Omicron?
The WHO said it is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on its existing countermeasures, including vaccines, but continue to stress that vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death cause by the variants.
The mutations that Omicron carries suggest that the vaccines most likely will be less effective, to some unknown degree, than they were against any previous variant and there are also evidence that the new variant can overcome natural immunity, according to an article published in the New York Time.
The characteristics of Omicron show that it has 26 unique spike mutations as compared with 10 in Delta and six in Beta.
The CDC have also stated that “Laboratory and epidemiological studies are needed to assess the impact of the Omicron variant on vaccine effectiveness and breakthrough infections, including in individuals who have received booster doses”.
However, the WHO has maintained that “Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant”.
WHO has disclosed that it is coordinating with a large number of researchers around the world to better understand the Omicron variant. named assessments of transmissibility, severity of infection (including symptoms), performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and effectiveness of treatments as studies that are currently underway.
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