What You Need to Know About the Omicron Variant

Omicron is the latest variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. Like Delta, it has been designated an “Option of Concern” (more serious than “Option of Interest”) by the World Health Organization. Like Delta, he moves quickly. Cases have skyrocketed recently in South Africa, and cases of this variant have since been found in New York, Hawaii, California, Minnesota and Colorado .

So yes, Omicron is what health officials are concerned about. But this did not completely change the rules of the game around COVID. The WHO continues to recommend masks, ventilation, distancing and vaccines as our best remedies against this.

How bad is the Omicron option?

Omicron has caught the attention of health officials because its numbers have grown rapidly in several countries in southern Africa and because it has several genetic mutations that might be bad news, but we don’t know how bad yet. You don’t hear much about it because it is terribly bad; you hear about it because it is disturbing and new.

(This, by the way, is a good lesson in why we do not name diseases or variants after places: There was another “South African variant” at the beginning of the pandemic, has nothing to do with this and Omicron probably did not come from. South Africa ; scientists of that country have just examined it in the most thorough way.)

According to the World Health Organization :

  • The Omicron may be more transferable than other options, but we’re not sure yet.
  • Omicron can cause more severe disease than other options, but again, we’re still not sure.
  • “Modern vaccines remain effective against serious illness and death.” We do not yet know if the effectiveness of the vaccine against milder forms of the disease is reduced.
  • COVID tests can still detect Omicron.
  • Corticosteroids and IL6 receptor blockers – two treatments used for COVID – are still working. We do not know about other treatments.
  • According to “preliminary data,” a previous infection may not protect well against re-infection with Omicron.

What should I do?

As far as we know, our current tools are still performing well. Vaccines are especially important. It seems that modern vaccines still protect very well against serious illness and death, and it is likely that they will continue to protect against less severe illnesses caused by Omicron. (There are many more Delta and other variant viruses.)

In fact, the new option may make vaccination even more important. If you have had COVID before and thought you were probably immune, you may be more susceptible to Omicron than previous options. And vaccines protect you and those around you for the same reasons as before. Remember, vaccines are now available to everyone ages 5 and up , so get vaccinated if you haven’t already.

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