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Omicron variant FAQ: 8 key things to know about the new COVID strain

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The omicron variant is elevating world concern.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Two years and greater than 5.2 million reported world deaths later, the omicron variant spreading round the globe is taken into account a extremely mutated type of COVID-19. While the delta strain dominates in the US and globally, omicron might change into the most typical COVID variant in months, in accordance to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

“Mathematical modelling [sic] indicates that the Omicron VOC is expected to cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months” due to early understandings of the omicron variant’s excessive transmissibility between folks, the middle mentioned in a Dec. 2 temporary

In the US, President Joe Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster photographs till extra info turns into out there. Experts warning it could possibly be two or three weeks earlier than we know precisely how contagious omicron is and if it will possibly 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 dying, with people who find themselves unvaccinated being greater than 10 instances extra probably to be hospitalized if contaminated. Vaccine-makers are optimistic the present vaccines approved to be used in the US will present a level of safety towards omicron, too.

Here are eight necessary things to know about omicron in the present day. For extra on COVID boosters, here is a trick to simply get an appointment and free journey. Here’s how you will quickly get a COVID take a look at equipment at no cost and particulars on mixing and matching vaccines.


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Omicron is spreading roughly 2.4 instances as quick as delta in South Africa

Scientists finding out the omicron variant in South Africa, the place it was first reported to the World Health Organization, have mentioned it is spreading greater than twice as quick as the delta variant. But what is not but recognized is the unfold is hastened as a result of the mutations make it simpler to unfold amongst folks, if vaccines are much less efficient towards this strain or for another purpose. The research has not but been revealed or peer-reviewed.

It will get a little bit dense, however the determine comes from this Twitter thread:

“We estimated relative effective reproductive #s for #Omicron & #Delta. In Gauteng, the ratio is ~2.4 (2.0, 2.7), assuming #Omicron has the same typical time between generations,” mentioned the research chief, Carl Pearson, who builds mathematical fashions for the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Research, in a tweet

Note that the function of the research is to present estimates so nations can start to plan. Its conclusions are primarily based on mathematical fashions and usually are not definitive.

Omicron is already confirmed in 12 US states

First, it was Minnesota, then California and now Hawaii, New York and factors in between. The US and different nations had been already bracing for an elevated caseload as colder climate and vacation revelry drove extra folks indoors collectively. Now, considerations over a winter surge of the dominant delta variant be a part of considerations about omicron’s unfold.

Omicron has some similarities to the delta variant’s mutation

COVID latches onto cells utilizing a spike protein in its construction. Omicron has extra mutations than the delta variant, which is taken into account a minimum of 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 reason for concern. 

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

Current COVID PCR exams can determine omicron

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

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Drugmakers are exploring if the present vaccines are efficient towards the new variant.


Sarah Tew/CNET

It is not clear how present vaccines will reply to omicron

Scientists are testing whether or not omicron might trigger breakthrough infections in people who find themselves absolutely vaccinated and reinfections for individuals 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 towards the omicron mutation. Scientists are hopeful, nonetheless, that the present vaccines will proceed to defend towards 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 approved in the US.

Still, the indisputable fact that omicron has quickly mutated and unfold has rung a minimum of 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.

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 lot of individuals inspecting the effectiveness of its present vaccine and booster with the variant. Moderna can be testing a COVID-19 vaccine that would defend towards a number of mutated strains of the coronavirus taking a look at an omicron-specific booster vaccine. Burton mentioned if Moderna wants to make a new vaccine modified for the variant, it could possibly 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 might develop and produce a tailored vaccine towards 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 towards the omicron variant and has begun work on a new vaccine designed for omicron, if wanted.

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

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

  • Outreach packages to contact folks eligible to obtain booster photographs.
  • Making at-home COVID exams “free” for everybody.
  • Tighter journey restrictions that require a destructive COVID take a look at 24 hours earlier than departure.
  • Paid break day for federal staff to get booster photographs.
  • Securing antiviral drugs as a therapy for individuals who change into contaminated with COVID-19 (these are really useful however not but FDA authorized).
  • Sending 200 million extra doses of COVID vaccine to worldwide nations in the subsequent 100 days (280 million have already been despatched).

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 folks appeared 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 historical Greek

For further COVID steerage, here is what to know about new journey restrictions, how to retailer your vaccine card in your telephone and what to do should 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’ll have about a medical situation or well being goals.

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