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Explainer-How worried should we be about the Omicron variant? By Reuters


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Travelers line up for a COVID-19 check throughout the coronavirus illness (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Deena Beasley

(Reuters) – The new Omicron coronavirus variant – recognized first in South Africa, but in addition detected in Europe and Asia – is elevating concern worldwide given the variety of mutations, which could assist it unfold and even evade antibodies from prior an infection or vaccination.

News of the variant prompted international locations to announce new journey restrictions on Friday and despatched drugmakers scrambling to see if their COVID-19 vaccines stay protecting.

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WHY ARE SCIENTISTS WORRIED?

The World Health Organization on Friday labeled the B.1.1.529 variant, or Omicron, as a SARS-CoV-2 “variant of concern,” saying it might unfold extra rapidly than different types of coronavirus.

The Delta variant stays dominant worldwide, accounting for 99.9% of U.S. instances, and it isn’t but clear whether or not Omicron will be capable of displace Delta, stated Dr. Graham (NYSE:) Snyder, medical director, an infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

But the new variant has over 30 mutations in the a part of the virus that present vaccines goal. It can be suspected of driving a spike in new infections in South Africa.

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Omicron’s mutations are more likely to render sure COVID-19 therapies – together with some manufactured antibodies – ineffective, stated Dr. David Ho, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University.

Experimental antiviral capsules – comparable to Pfizer Inc (NYSE:)’s Paxlovid and Merck & Co Inc’s molnupiravir – goal elements of the virus that aren’t modified in Omicron, and these medication might change into much more essential if vaccine-induced and pure immunity are threatened.

THE UNKNOWNS

Scientists say it might be a number of extra weeks earlier than they’ll outline the kind of illness brought on by the variant, decide how contagious it’s and determine how far it has already unfold.

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Some word that different variants of concern, together with Beta, which was additionally first detected in South Africa, have been in the end changed by Delta.

But the largest query stays whether or not safety from COVID-19 vaccines – almost 8 billion doses have been administered globally – will maintain up. And, will folks beforehand contaminated with the coronavirus be immune from an infection with Omicron?

Experts additionally do not but know whether or not Omicron will trigger roughly extreme COVID-19 in comparison with different coronavirus strains.

BEST (NYSE:) RESPONSE?

Omicron has not but been recognized in the United States, however it’s seemingly already right here, scientists stated.

Even with out the new variant, U.S. COVID-19 charges have elevated in latest weeks, primarily in northern states, as folks transfer indoors to keep away from winter climate.

Some international locations have moved to restrict journey from southern Africa. Beyond authorities restrictions, people should nonetheless assess their very own vulnerability to COVID and tolerance for danger as they make journey choices for the winter holidays, Snyder from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center stated.

He and others stated vaccination should stay a precedence regardless of questions about effectiveness towards Omicron, as a result of it’s seemingly that they nonetheless stay protecting to a sure extent. Everyone should additionally proceed to put on masks, keep away from crowds, ventilate rooms, and wash palms.

“We have all these instruments that may work towards any variant,” stated Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.

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