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How worried should we be about the Omicron variant?


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The new Omicron coronavirus variant – recognized first in South Africa, but additionally 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 categorized 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.

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

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

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 – reminiscent of Pfizer Inc’s Paxlovid and Merck & Co Inc’s molnupiravir – goal elements of the virus that aren’t modified in Omicron, and these medication may grow to be much more necessary if vaccine-induced and pure immunity are threatened.

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THE UNKNOWNS

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

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

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

Experts additionally don’t but know whether or not Omicron will trigger kind of extreme COVID-19 in comparison with different coronavirus strains.

BEST RESPONSE?

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

Even with out the new variant, U.S. COVID-19 charges have elevated in current weeks, primarily in northern states, as individuals 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 threat as they make journey selections 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 in opposition to Omicron, as a result of it’s probably 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 fingers.

“We have all those tools that will work against any variant,” stated Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. (Reporting by Deena Beasley; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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