Omicron Variant: An Expert Breaks Down What We Know and Don’t Know

A new and maybe more contagious variant of Covid that was first detected by South African scientists has led to a new set of travel bans over the world and upheaved concern regarding what’s next in the pandemic.

On Friday, the World Health Organization claimed omicron as a variant of concern.

While scientists say there is reason to be concerned over Omicron, they stress there is still a lot we don’t know — including whether the variant is indeed more contagious, whether it causes more severe disease, or what its effects on vaccine efficacy are are are may be.

Epidemiologist Dr. Abdul El-Sayed said, “While this is concerning, as the WHO has indicated, I do think that we have to step back and wait for the science on this.”

On Monday, when Karim was asked if a new variant is more contagious or bypass vaccines, he said “The reality is we’ve only known about this virus for just over a week, so we don’t have the kind of data required to answer those questions definitively,” people must be attentive not to assume anything regarding the severeness of variant, he told John Berman on CNN’s “New Day.” 

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On Monday, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that US health officials are obtaining their details from their fellows in South Africa, with whom they’ve been in constant touch.

Fauci said “They have several patients that they’re following in the medical facilities, and they assured us that they would know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half, as to whether or not we’re dealing with something that, for the most part, is more severe, equally as severe or less severe. It could be either of them,” 

About the severity of the new variant, on Sunday, the then-FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said “Is this making people more ill? There’s no indication that it is.

Omicron variant

And in fact, there’s some anecdotal information offered from physicians in South Africa that this could be causing milder illness. Now, that could be an artifact of the fact that initial cases seem to be clustered in younger people, perhaps in outbreaks around universities.”

So Far, Evidence Indicates It Transmits Faster

On Monday, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, told Jim Sciutto on CNN’s “Newsroom” said “I think it is clear from what’s happening in South Africa that this Omicron variant does spread rapidly,” noting that coronavirus cases are comparatively less in South Africa.

He added “What we don’t know is whether this Omicron variant will outcompete Delta in a country like ours, or whether Delta, because it’s been so successful, will just push it aside. That’s another unknown.”

As per Karim’s statement, Omicron has identical mutations to the Delta variant, so there’s an anticipation that it will spread more rapidly. Based on early evidence in South Africa, “it’s certainly transmitting faster than the Delta variant.”

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Fauci said that so far there are no reported cases of the Omicron variant in the U.S. He said “It’s inevitable that sooner or later it’s going to spread widely because it has at least the molecular characteristics of being highly transmissible, even though there are a lot of things about it that we do not know but that will be able to be ascertained in the next week or two, I believe.”

Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota said  “We’re seeing a variant that has the capability of high transmissibility, meaning that it’s very readily transmitted, and that has been the variant that ultimately wins the kind of the king of the hill for the viruses, as Delta replaced Alpha, which replaced previous strains.”

He added “It’s very likely that we’re going to see in the days ahead that the Omicron virus is going to ultimately be the new king of the hill, and in fact, it will bring with it this ability to potentially impact on immune response,” 

Cases Have Been Mild So Far

According to Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association “So it started with a younger generation of 40 and less, and the most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days, with then the headache and the body aches and pain.”

She added “Some of them will have what they call a scratch throat, and some will have a cough, a dry cough. But it’s not a constant cough. It comes and goes. And that’s more or less the big symptoms that we have seen.”

Coetzee said, “I’m not saying the virus is not going to give you severe infections, but the whole hype out there doesn’t make any sense, medical sense, at this stage.”

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Vaccines Are the Best Way to Deal With It

Collins claimed that the best way to deal with the Omicron variant is to get vaccinated and later a booster shot.

He said “Your best protection against Delta is to get vaccinated, and if you’ve already been vaccinated and six months have passed since you got Pfizer or Moderna, get your booster; two months since J&J, get your booster,” adding “That was a reason already, but now add Omicron to the mix,” continuing “And we do believe that this new variant, which will probably come to our shores, will also be something vaccines and boosters can help you with.

Collins said “Get your vaccine, get your booster,” adding “It’s the best chance we’ve got to drive this Covid-19 pandemic away.”

Moderna chief medical officer, Dr. Paul said “If we need to manufacture an Omicron-specific variant, it’s going to take some weeks, you know, two to three months is probably what we’re looking at to be able to begin to test it and manufacture it.”

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