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A variant of Concern: Omicron

Omicron, a new Covid-19 variant with a high number of mutations


A variant of Concern: Omicron

The World Health Organization has designated the strain, now named Omicron, as a variant of concern and said multiple studies are underway to monitor its development.

  • The Unknowns - Scientists are warning that the variant could be more contagious, but they don't really know for sure. They also worry about its effects on vaccine efficacy and severity of disease - we'll just have to wait until there's more research!
  • Where it has been identified - The variant has so far been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Belgium. A specimen from the first known case of the variant in South Africa was collected November 9, the WHO said Friday.
  • The number of variant cases - Now, the number of variant cases seems to be increasing in nearly every province of the country, the WHO said. South Africa has currently fully vaccinated less than 36% of its adult population and its rate of new vaccinations had fallen in recent days, according to the country's health department.
  • Cases Identified - South African officials also initially said there was one confirmed case in a traveler from South Africa to Hong Kong. Friday, Hong Kong health authorities identified a second case of the variant among returning travelers on the same floor of a designated quarantine hotel. Health authorities ordered at least 12 people in nearby rooms to undergo mandatory Covid-19 testing and two weeks of quarantine in a government center. Also on Friday, the Belgian government said an individual who had recently traveled from Egypt and was unvaccinated, tested positive for the variant, marking the first case in Europe.
  • High number of Mutations: South African genomic scientists said earlier this week the variant has an unusually high number of mutations, with more than 30 in the key spike protein -- the structure the virus uses to get into the cells they attack.
  • The concern: Scientists are concerned those mutations could make the variant more transmissible and could result in immune evasion. Scientists are working to find out whether the variant could evade immunity, saying its mutations can help hint or predict whether it will be the case.
  • Vaccine Efficacy: The million-dollar question is, is there a tiny hit to vaccine efficacy, or is there a large hit? we'll get some preliminary data probably in the next few days.
  • How it compares with other variants - While mutations -- and new variants -- of the virus are expected as it continues to spread, experts say there's more reason for concern with Omicron. As per the scientists they have seen a lot of variants pop up over the last five, six months, and most of them have not amounted to much but this looks different. It's acting differently, it looks like it's much more contagious than even the Delta variant." WHO officials also said in their statement Friday preliminary evidence suggests Omicron also poses a higher risk of reinfection, compared to other variants of concern.

What vaccine makers are saying

In a Friday news release, Moderna said it was rapidly working to test the ability of its vaccine to neutralize the variant, and data is expected in the coming weeks.

The strain includes mutations "seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape," Moderna said. "The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity."

The Solution: If its current vaccine and booster are insufficient against the variant, one possible solution is boosting people with a larger dose, which Moderna said it is testing. The company is also evaluating two multivalent booster candidates to see if they provide better protection against Omicron -- both of which include some of the viral mutations present in the variant. Moderna said it is also testing an Omicron-specific booster. AstraZeneca also said it was looking to understand the impact Omicron has on its vaccine, which is not currently authorized for use in the US. A Johnson & Johnson spokesperson told CNN in a statement the company was also testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron.

Why Travel Restrictions?

Travel restrictions will buy governments some time to investigate the variant, but it's inevitable the strain will eventually appear and spread.

Source : who,cnn

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