Omicron Variant Update

Note- The following update with information from the dates November 26-29, 2021.

The newest variant of COVID-19, Omicron, made headlines on November 26, 2021, and has alarmed researchers and caused tightened entry restrictions in some countries. After the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (EDCD) made a threat assessment of the variant, Israel and the United Kingdom began barring flights from South Africa and other countries that have had cases of the variant. Dr. Coetzee, the South African doctor who first raised alarms at the possibility of a new variant, said her and her colleagues’ patients are experiencing “extremely mild” symptoms, and as of this morning, November 29, 2021, none had been hospitalized due to the variant. Thus, early evidence suggests that the symptoms of Omicron may be mild, but the variant’s mutation profile is the cause of concern among scientists. In South Africa, the positivity rates in Pretoria jumped from 1% to more than 30% in under two weeks. The WHO stated that preliminary evidence suggests a greater risk of reinfection due to the mutations. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota released a statement saying that there are “possible implications for immune escape, transmissibility, and response to treatments, especially regarding monoclonal antibodies” based on what is known about other COVID-19 variants.

The CIDRAP at the University of Minnesota suggests that the recent surges in Europe and North America were due to low levels of vaccination and immunity. Since the news release of Omicron’s designation on November 26, 2021, vaccine makers have been working on their responses. Moderna says there is a possibility that an Omicron booster could be ready by early 2022. In addition, Pfizer’s CEO stated this morning that there could be a new vaccine against Omicron in less than 100 days. Johnson & Johnson is currently testing their vaccine against the variant.