\The WHO designated variant B.1.1.529 a concern on 26 November 2021 on the advice of the Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAGVE). The evidence that Omicron may be affected by several mutations was presented to the TAG VE. This could have an effect on its behavior, such as how quickly it spreads and the severity of the illness it causes. Below is a summary.
Current information about Omicron
South African and international researchers are currently conducting research to better understand Omicron. They will continue to share their findings as they become available.
Transmissibility It is unclear if Omicron is more transmissible than other variants (e.g. more easily spread from one person to another) as compared to Delta. In South Africa, the number of people who test positive for this variant has increased. However, epidemiological studies are ongoing to determine if this is due to Omicron or any other factors.
Severity: Although it is unclear if Omicron infection causes more severe diseases than other variants of the virus, such as Delta, it is possible. Preliminary data suggest that South Africa is experiencing an increase in hospitalizations. However, this could be due to the increasing number of people infected with Omicron, not because of Omicron-specific infections. Omicron symptoms are not different from other variants. The first cases were reported among university students, who are younger and more likely to develop milder diseases. However, it will take several weeks to determine the severity of the Omicron variant. Any variant of COVID-19 can cause death or severe illness, especially for those most at risk.
Effectiveness prior to SARS-CoV-2 infected
Although preliminary evidence suggests that Omicron may increase the risk of reinfection (i.e. people who have had COVID-19 previously could be reinfected with Omicron more easily), information is still limited. In the coming days, more information will be available.
Efficacy of vaccines: WHO works with technical partners to assess the potential impact of this variant upon our current countermeasures, which include vaccines. Vaccines are essential for reducing severe diseases and deaths, especially against the dominant circulating variant Delta. Vaccines are still effective against severe diseases and death.
Current tests’ effectiveness: We have seen other variants of Omicron infection as well as PCR tests that continue to detect infections using the widely-used PCR test. Research is ongoing to see if there are any effects on other types, such as rapid antigen detection tests.
Current treatments: The effectiveness of the current treatments will not be affected by severe COVID-19. However, IL6 Receptor Blockers and corticosteroids will still be very effective in managing these patients. We will evaluate other treatments to determine if they still work given the Omicron virus variant’s changes.
WHO currently coordinates with many researchers from around the globe to better understand Omicron. Current or soon-to-be-completed studies include tests for diagnostic and vaccine performance, effectiveness, transmissibility, and severity of infection.
WHO encourages countries and regions to share hospitalized patient data via the WHO CoVID-19 Clinical Data Platform. This allows for the rapid description of clinical characteristics and patient outcomes.
In the coming days and weeks, more information will be available. WHO’s TAG VE will continue to monitor the data and evaluate it as it becomes available. They will also assess how Omicron mutations alter the virus’ behavior.
Recommendations for countries
Omicron was designated as a Variant Of Concern by WHO. There are many actions WHO recommends countries take, such as enhancing surveillance and sequencing cases, sharing genome sequences on publicly accessible databases like GISAID, reporting initial cases or clusters of cases to WHO, and performing laboratory assessments and field investigations to determine if Omicron is susceptible to disease transmission or impacting the effectiveness of vaccines and diagnostics. The announcement is available from 26 November.
The effective public health measures that reduce COVID-19 circulatory should be implemented by countries, using science-based approaches and risk analysis. To manage the increase in cases, they should improve their public health and medical capabilities. The WHO provides support and guidance to countries for their readiness and response.
It is also vital that inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccinations be addressed immediately to ensure that all vulnerable groups, including older people, get their first and second doses of the vaccines.
Recommendations for people
To reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the best steps are to keep at least one meter away from others.
WHO will keep updating you with new information as it becomes available. Information will also be available on WHO’s social media and digital platforms.
This post was written by a medical professional at The Wellness Firm. The Wellness Firm services include workplace flu clinics, flu vaccinations, onsite event Covid testing, physical exams for employment, as well as American Heart Association CPR certification classes. Founded by local Firemen, The Wellness Firm has been providing a safer Tampa Bay since 2006.