A new variant of the COVID-19 virus raising significant concern within the past few days in this time of the global pandemic is the new Omicron variant. Omicron is a new and potentially more transmissible strain of the coronavirus and is named like the other variants after Greek letters. Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. This new strain, that emerged in South Africa, named Omicron is considered to be a variant of concern which causes significant concern both in terms of its rate of transmissibility as well as it’s possible resistance to current vaccines.
The most important thing that we must understand is that there is a great deal about these variants especially the new variants that we do not fully know as yet including whether the variant is more contagious and whether or not it causes more severe disease or what its effect might be on vaccine efficacy. This variant has been identified in many countries all over the world it has been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong, Belgium and Botswana. New travel restrictions have undergone into effect in which travel has been restricted from South Africa as well as many countries within the African continent. The European Centre for disease prevention and control very recently stated that the variant could have an immune escape potential and potentially have increased transmissibility advantage compared to the delta variant.
Th Omicron has an unusual high number of mutations with more than 30 within the key spike protein. The key spike protein is a structure that viruses use to get into the cells which they attack. This higher number of mutations could make the variant not only more transmissible but also could cause this particular variant to escape protection even if an individual has been fully vacccinated.
It is not unexpected that we will see new mutations of a virus. New variants of viruses continue to emerge as time goes on. We have seen a lot of variants come up over the last five or six months that have not really been of serious concern. This variant, Omicron, is of serious concern, because it seems to be more contagious than the delta variant due to its very high number of mutations. It can take several months for one particular variant to become the dominant variant, so we will really need to wait until we have a better understanding of this particular problem. What we do understand at the present time is that the new variant ,Omicron, seems to have a higher risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern.
Vaccine manufacturing companies such as Moderna are working rapidly to test the ability of their vaccinations to neutralize or protect patients from this variant and several vaccination companies including Moderna and Astra Zeneca are working hard to understand how to protect patients against this new variant.
At makes complete sense to keep oneself vaccinated and to exercise common sense precautions as we navigate the pandemic.