As people around the world were breathing a sigh of relief due to the decreasing number of COVID infection cases, Omicron stepped in and reminded us that it is not over yet. The emergence of Omicron happened late in November. It has been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) that it is a new variant of SARS CoV-2. The B.1.1.529 Omicron has been classified as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
Omicron cases were first detected in Botswana and South Africa. There are confirmed cases in more than 77 countries now. Omicron cases detected in India are largely from Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, etc. This has led to panic among people, there are several international flight bans due to Omicron. People are also afraid there might be another lockdown in India as the threat rises. The UK has already seen a massive rise in cases and may be forced into lockdown. We don’t know for sure the severity of illness it causes, or how effective vaccines are against it, but research is on.
What do we know about Omicron?
- Omicron has sub-variants as well. While the two sub-lineages – B.A.1 and B.A. 2 have shared mutations, a new genome with all the shared mutations has appeared.
- Some of the Omicron symptoms are fever, scratchy throat, fatigue, head and body aches.
- Genome sequencing can confirm Omicron cases, however, RT PCR tests can detect a COVID-19 infection.
- While the virus is being monitored closely, we know that it spreads thrice more quickly than the Delta variant, which was considered the most contagious version of the virus.
- Vaccination will protect people against severe illness, the need for hospitalizations are reduced, and death rates are lower.
- Scientists are trying to figure out how well existing treatments for COVID-19 will work in this case. No reports on the ineffectiveness of existing treatment modalities have come up. Are children at a higher risk?
There is a lot of research ongoing regarding the Omicron variant and its transmissibility. Children seem to have a stronger immune response to the coronavirus infection but may be at a greater risk of contracting the Omicron virus. This is why the focus is now on vaccinating children.
Omicron and existing vaccines
The quick rise of the variant shows that it has some capacity to evade immunity. A lot of people including South Africans are fully vaccinated, despite which a large number of people were infected.
Studies suggest that breakthrough infections in South Africa took place even though the vaccines administered were Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Some countries have focused on giving booster doses. It is believed that a third dose may decrease Omicron’s ability to evade the antibodies.
Even if the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron comes out to be slightly low, it remains the best way to protect people from COVID-19. Scientists are currently investigating Omicron, but the tools we already have for protection are masks, sanitisers, vaccines, availability of tests, awareness of safety measures that can be of great help irrespective of the type of variant.
The spread of the Omicron variant may make you question the effectiveness of the vaccines, but you must remember that Delta is still the dominant variant and the safety measures and vaccines will help you reduce the threat of severe COVID infection from all variants. No studies so far, have proven the ineffectiveness of vaccines in Omicron. While researches are being carried on, you must continue to follow COVID guidelines to stay safe and get vaccinated.
Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.