Being the horrible virus that it is, the coronavirus has made itself a menace for nearly two years straight as it continues to mutate into a much aggressive form.
With over 5.2 million global deaths recorded in relation to COVID-19, the virus will stop at nothing to devastate the world.
A new variant was recently discovered in South Africa this past week called Omicron and as of now, it has reportedly appeared in at least 24 other countries across the world.
With that said, many global authorities are therefore trying their possible best to curb off the spread of the new strain which WHO has added to its list of “concerning” strains just like the aggressive Delta variant.
The report also has it that scientists and health research experts are on the lookout as well as trying to understand the strain’s differences as well as its effects on the human body.
In the US, President Joe Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster shots until further information is available about the new strain.
Also, experts believe it could take up to two or three weeks before they know how contagious omicron is and it will potentially cause severe illness when compared to other mutations of the coronavirus.
For now, vaccines are still the only means of getting preventing hospitalization and even death due to their efficacy. Also, health experts believe that those who are unvaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized if infected.
Also, vaccine-makers believe that their authorized vaccines should provide protection against the new Omicron strain as well.
However, we gathered a number of important information about the new COVID-19 strain below.
Omicron is in the US
Currently, Omicron is in the United States – Minnesota, California, and Colorado. But the strain is also in other three separate zones while experts believe the number of cases could increase over time.
Currently, the Omicron strain is in about 24 countries worldwide leading to other countries bracing for the impact as colder weather and holiday season have driven more people indoors together.
Now, concerns over a winter surge of the dominant delta variant join concerns about omicron’s spread.
Omicron is reportedly contagious
Researchers found out that Omicron has more mutations compared to the delta variant which is considered to be two-time as contagious as previous strains.
Although researchers haven’t announced that the Omicron strain is more or less contagious when compared to the delta variant but the presence of those mutations is the cause of concern.
With that, many countries have now banned travel from some southern African countries including South Africa.
Omicron can be detected using current COVID PCR tests
According to experts, the current PCR test available can identify the presence of COVID-19 in the body which makes it good news in the detection of the Omicron strain.
“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
However, there is no certainty as to whether the new Omicron strain will respond to existing vaccines well or at least how it will respond to them.
However, it may take up to two or three weeks before enough data are gathered about the new strains which will then help to understand if existing Covid vaccines from big pharma like J&J, Moderna, and Pfizer are able to combat the new strain.
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 during an interview with Reuters on Tuesday. (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.
Booster shots and vaccination are considered the best prevention right now
The US president Joe Biden has announced on Thursday his plan to help protect US citizens against the Omicron variant this winter.
- There will be outreaches to contact those eligible for booster shots.
- Making at-home COVID tests “free” for everyone.
- Travel restrictions that requires 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).
- Also sending about 200 million more doses of COVID vaccines to international countries in the next 100 days apart from the current 280 million doses that has been sent.
Moderna, Pfizer and other vaccine makers are back to the drawing board
Moderna’s CMO Paul Burton in a press meeting with the BBC stated that his company had hundreds of experts working on the effectiveness of its current vaccine and booster with the new strain.
The company is also testing a COVID-18 vaccine that could protect against several mutated strains of the coronavirus as well as 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.
On the other hand, is Pfizer whose spokesperson said that 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.
J&J also said its working with scientists in South Africa as well as around the globe to evaluate the effectiveness of its COVID-19 strain against the omicron strain and has also started working on a new vaccine that is designed to target Omicron just in case.