There is still much to be learned about the new COVID-19 Omicron variant, but scientists are racing to determine its severity, its transmissibility, and whether current vaccines are effective against it.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t:
Why are people concerned about the Omicron variant?
The new Omicron variant is highly mutated when compared with the four other variants of concern (Delta, Gamma, Beta, and Alpha). For example, it has 50 mutations, 32 of them found in the spike protein, which the virus uses to get into our cells. In comparison, the Delta variant has only 19 mutations (and 8 of those are in the spike protein).
Is this COVID-19 variant more transmissible than previous variants?
From the clinical data coming through, and based on the constellation of mutations that we know increase transmissibility, it seems that Omicron should be at least as transmissible as Delta. Time will tell if this is the case.
Does this variant cause more-severe disease?
At the present time, there is not enough data to come to any conclusions about this.
Will this variant overcome immunity that is the result of vaccination and/or previous infection?
Vaccines remain our best defence against COVID-19, but with the mutations identified in this variant, experts are concerned about vaccine efficacy. We are also unsure how well prior infection will protect against the Omicron variant.
How can I protect myself against the Omicron variant?
The best protection against all COVID-19 variants is to get vaccinated and to get your booster shot when you are eligible. Continue practicing all recommended protection measures including social distancing, masking in public places, and washing hands frequently.