On November 26th, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Omicron variant a “variant of concern”. The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in early November. Shortly after its discovery, South African officials alerted the world to the new variant. Though this variant was detected in Africa, nobody knows for sure where it originated and how it accumulated so many mutations.
As of this week, Omicron has been detected in 89 countries, including the United States. It is now the dominant strain in the United States, accounting for 73% of recent cases.
Research has indicated that Omicron spreads faster than previous variants – including Delta. Despite the high transmission, there is still a lot we don’t know about the variant. Still, researchers are gathering information as quickly as possible. One thing we do know is the Omicron variant features 30 mutations to the virus’s spike proteins, which is higher than any previous variants.
I’m fully vaccinated. Should I worry about the Omicron variant?
Right now, more research needs to be done on the Omicron variant before we can get a clear idea of how well vaccines protect us against the new mutation. According to the CDC, while vaccines do reduce serious symptoms and hospitalizations, we don’t yet know how effective they will be against new variants that may arise, including Omicron.
Researchers have expressed concern regarding the high number of mutations. The main concern is that Omicron’s mutations could allow it to evade antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines.
Companies producing vaccines are already looking at how they can alter the current vaccines to make them stronger against new variants. The emergence of the Omicron variant emphasizes the importance of vaccines and boosters.
Are the symptoms the same as the Delta variant?
The symptoms of the Omicron variant are similar to other COVID-19 variants, including those of Delta’s. Symptoms may include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Latest data has shown symptoms of the Omicron variant are predominantly cold symptoms. Right now, there is not enough research done to say whether or not the symptoms from this new variant are more severe than previous variants.
Is this variant spreading just as quickly as the Delta variant?
So far, evidence is showing that Omicron is spreading much quicker than the Delta variant. The high transmissibility of this new variant is the reason why many countries have imposed travel restrictions. According to the World Health Organization, Omicron cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days with documented spread.
What does it mean to be fully vaccinated?
Regardless of your age, you are considered fully vaccinated:
- 2 weeks after your second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
- 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine
Right now, everyone 16 years of age and older is eligible for a booster shot in the United States. The CDC is recommending that you wait 6 months after your initial COVID-19 vaccines series to get a booster shot.
Why do new variants keep on appearing?
Variants of viruses occur when there is a mutation to the virus’s genes. RNA viruses, such as the coronavirus, evolve over time. Viruses mutate regularly and the coronavirus has mutated thousands of times since its detection in 2019. Since its discovery, only 4 mutations of the coronavirus have been variants of concern. Those 4 have been: Beta, Delta, Gamma, and now Omicron.
The bottom line
Right now, it is more important than ever to get vaccinated and get tested. The Omicron variant is currently accounting for 92% of the COVID-19 cases here in Texas. The spread of COVID-19 and any variant slows through frequent medical testing and monitoring. This includes antibody, PCR, and surveillance testing.
Check out our testing offerings and learn all about our COVID-19 testing here.