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Omicron variant: 7 things to know about the new COVID strain today


The omicron variant is elevating international concern.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the most up-to-date information and data about the coronavirus pandemic, go to the WHO and CDC web sites.

Nearly two years after the first COVID-19 strain launched a pandemic inflicting greater than 5.2 million reported international deaths, a new variant could also be on the rise: omicron. Discovered final week in South Africa, the omicron COVID variant has appeared in at the least 24 international locations and is spurring world leaders to strive to comprise its unfold — all whereas scientists and infectious illness consultants rush to perceive this strain’s variations and results.

World leaders and well being organizations presently view omicron as a variant of concern, however not panic. In the US, President Joe Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster pictures till extra info turns into out there. Much stays unknown, however the image turns into clearer daily. Experts warning it might be two or three weeks earlier than we know how contagious omicron is and if it could trigger extra extreme sickness than different mutations of the virus.

So far, the COVID-19 vaccines have proved to be extremely efficient in stopping hospitalization and loss of life, with people who find themselves unvaccinated being greater than 10 occasions extra possible to be hospitalized if contaminated. And vaccine-makers are optimistic the present vaccines licensed to be used in the US will present safety in opposition to omicron, too.

Here are seven necessary things to know about omicron today. For extra on COVID boosters, this is a trick to simply get an appointment and free trip. Here’s how you will quickly get a COVID take a look at equipment without cost and particulars on mixing and matching vaccines.

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What to do when you lose your vaccination card, and the way…


Omicron is already confirmed in a number of US states

First, it was Minnesota, then California and now Colorado. Omicron is not simply in the US, it is in three separate time zones. And confirmed circumstances are anticipated to enhance. The US and different international locations have been already bracing for an elevated caseload as colder climate and vacation revelry drove extra individuals indoors collectively. Now, considerations over a winter surge of the dominant delta variant be a part of considerations about omicron’s unfold.

The omicron variant is believed to be extremely contagious

COVID latches onto cells utilizing a spike protein in its construction. Omicron has extra mutations than the delta variant, which is taken into account at the least twice as contagious as earlier strains. While it is not clear but if omicron is kind of contagious than delta, the presence of these mutations is one explanation for concern. 

That could also be one purpose international locations round the world have banned journey from some international locations in southern Africa and elevated journey restrictions that embrace a unfavourable COVID take a look at 24 hours earlier than journey, no matter vaccination standing.

Current COVID PCR exams can establish omicron

Most PCR exams to establish the presence of COVID-19 in the physique are free (COVID exams for worldwide journey are the fundamental exception). So it is excellent news that present nasal swab take a look at has been discovered to detect the omicron variant — a blood take a look at or different process up to now is pointless.

“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, mentioned Nov. 29 in a press briefing.

It is not clear how present vaccines will reply to omicron

Scientists are testing whether or not omicron may trigger breakthrough infections in people who find themselves totally vaccinated and reinfections for many who have antibodies from a previous COVID-19 an infection. It could take two to three weeks earlier than sufficient take a look at information reveals how efficient the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are in defending in opposition to the omicron mutation. Scientists are hopeful, nonetheless, that the present vaccines will proceed to shield in opposition to the new variant.

“We think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by omicron,” mentioned Ugur Sahin, co-founder of BioNTech, mentioned uring an interview with Reuters on TuesdayBioNTech labored with Pfizer to create one in all the vaccines licensed in the US.

Still, the proven fact that omicron has quickly mutated and unfold has rung at the 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, chief of the World Health Organization, mentioned on Nov. 29.


Drugmakers are exploring if the present vaccines are efficient in opposition to the new variant.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Booster pictures and vaccination are thought of the greatest prevention proper now

On Thursday, Biden introduced a plan to assist shield the US in opposition to the omicron variant this winter. It consists of, amongst different things:

  • Outreach packages to contact individuals eligible to obtain booster pictures.
  • Making at-home COVID exams “free” for everybody.
  • Tighter journey restrictions that require a unfavourable COVID take a look at 24 hours earlier than departure.
  • Paid day without work for federal employees to get booster pictures.
  • Securing antiviral drugs as a therapy for individuals who change into contaminated with COVID-19 (these are really useful however not but FDA accepted).
  • Sending 200 million extra doses of COVID vaccine to worldwide international locations in the subsequent 100 days (280 million have already been despatched.)

Moderna, Pfizer and different vaccine makers have a Plan B

Moderna: Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton informed the BBC his firm has a whole bunch of individuals inspecting the effectiveness of its present vaccine and booster with the variant. Moderna can be testing a COVID-19 vaccine that would shield in opposition to a number of mutated strains of the coronavirus an omicron-specific booster vaccine. Burton mentioned if Moderna wants to make a new vaccine modified for the variant, it might be out there early in 2022.

Pfizer: A Pfizer spokesperson mentioned the firm is “constantly conducting surveillance efforts focused on monitoring for emerging variants that potentially escape protection from our vaccine.”

The spokesperson mentioned Pfizer may develop and produce a tailored vaccine in opposition to that variant in roughly 100 days.

Johnson & Johnson: Johnson & Johnson mentioned it is working with scientists in South Africa and round the world to consider the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in opposition to the omicron variant and has begun work on a new vaccine designed for omicron, if wanted.

Omicron is pronounced like this

The World Health Organization assigns Greek letters to key COVID variants to assist the public simply bear in mind and pronounce the completely different mutations of the virus. When first introduced, search curiosity in the Greek letters “omicron” and “omega” climbed as individuals regarded for info on the new variant. The new omicron variant is pronounced both OH-me-cron or OH-my-cronrelying on whether or not you studied historic Greek

For further COVID steering, this is what to know about new journey restrictions, how to retailer your vaccine card in your telephone and what to do when you lose your vaccine card.

The info contained on this article is for instructional and informational functions solely and isn’t meant as well being or medical recommendation. Always seek the advice of a doctor or different certified well being supplier concerning any questions you will have about a medical situation or well being aims.

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