By: Joseph Mechak, MD
What do we know about the Omicron Variant
The Omicron Variant is a newly identified ‘variant of concern’ discovered by South African scientists. The variant was first isolated in areas of Southern Africa but has since been identified in countries around the globe, now including United States where the first case was identified on December 1st. President Biden and Dr. Fauci have said that this variant is a “cause for concern, but not a cause for panic.” When it comes to any variant, Omicron included, there are three important questions scientists are looking to answer:
- Is this variant more contagious? Based on lab data and a very small amount of real world data from South Africa, it does seem that the Omicron Variant is more contagious than both the initial coronavirus and the already highly transmissible Delta variant. Experts will need a few weeks to get a better grasp on just how contagious it is.
- Is this variant more virulent or more deadly? Again, it is too early to know for sure and there is no sound data available at this point. But, from early observations from South Africa, Omicron does not seem to be more deadly. Cases of COVID in southern Africa (where vaccination rates are still low) have increased rapidly over the past few weeks but hospitalizations and deaths have remained relatively low and are ticking up at a proportional rate – suggesting that this variant is not more deadly than others.
- Does this variant evade our current vaccines/treatments? It does not seem to, but (are you tired of hearing this yet…), it’s too early to know for sure. The concern with this specific variant is that many of its mutations are on the viral spike protein which is the target for our current vaccines and therapeutics. There are no indications at this point that this variant will evade our vaccines, but scientists are looking into this with urgency given the degree and location of these mutations.
How can I protect myself against the Omicron Variant
The good news is that the past 2-years have provided lots of practice on how to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and protect your family… It comes down to the same ol’ techniques:
- Wash hands
- Wear a mask
- Stay home if your are sick or exposed
- Avoid sick people
- Get tested if you are symptomatic
- Get vaccinated – All children 5 and older and now eligible for the vaccine (more on this in an upcoming blog)
- Get boosted – On November 30th, the CDC strengthened its recommendations regarding adults getting booster shots. The recommendations previously stated that anyone 18 years and older MAY get a booster dose but now says that anyone 18 years and older SHOULD get a booster shot. These changes were in large part due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
The bottom line:
- There is still much to learn about the newly identified Omicron variant – We will provide updates as new information emerges.
- At this point, there is concern that this variant is more contagious than others but no data to suggest that it is more deadly or that it will evade our vaccine defenses.
- Getting your children vaccinated and getting your self a booster shot, when eligible, is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.
- Omicron is a cause for concern but not panic and information is power. Get your information from reliable sources like the WHO, CDC, or Maryland Department of Health!