Late last week, the covid variant which was first identified in South Africa was named omicron by the World Health Organization and declared a “variant of concern.” It has dozens more mutations on the spike protein and researchers worry that it will be more transmissible than the delta variant. They have since identified cases in multiple countries however it’s still unknown if it’s more transmissible, if it causes more severe cases and how well the current vaccines and previous infections protect against it.
I was going to quote reports out of South Africa and Europe claiming that people infected with the omicron variant are having milder symptoms than typical covid, but I read up on that. Many outlets state that the South African doctor who said this had her comments taken out of context. She also warned that cases would be worse in older and in unvaccinated people. Plus long covid is a concern even with mild infections. Hospitalizations are rising in the area of South Africa with the omicron variant. It seems like they just don’t have a handle yet on how dangerous this is.
USA Today has a good explainer on what is known so far about omicron. I’m just going to quote a small section of it and recommend you read the full article for more.
It’s not clear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, WHO said. However, preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa.
It’s also unclear how well the virus evades immunity from previous infection or COVID-19 vaccines to cause a breakthrough infection.
But even with so little information, health experts say people should be watchful.
“Americans should take this variant seriously,” Swann said. “Even if this one turns out to be not as bad as we fear, there will be another one that will.”
As Dr. Fauci, President Biden and so many others have recommended the best way to avoid being infected is to get a booster shot and continue to take precautions. I’m boostered and still wear a mask everywhere. In my redneck area I see less than 50% of people indoors wearing masks. It’s stressful to have a cashier who is sniffling and wiping her bare nose with her hand, but all I can do now is protect myself. I set up a hand washing station in my car with soap, a Gatorade bottle full of water and a little towel.
Pfizer said they can have a vaccine available to fight omicron if necessary within 100 days. They say it should take about two weeks to determine if omicron is resistant to current vaccines. That’s so impressive! Also the FDA just voted to authorize a new antiviral prescription pill from Merck to treat covid. it should be available in a few weeks. Several more prescriptions are in the works. We’re much more prepared to fight these variants than we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Hopefully covid will become endemic in the not-too-far future, but it’s hard to tell. The world has shifted and things have changed permanently for those of us who are reality-based.
Update: It turns out that Omicron was in Europe before South Africa, that’s just the first place it was identified.
photos credit: Instar and Avalon.red