The Omicron variant might be the scariest version of COVID yet. The WHO just announced that this SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, B.1.1.529, has been elevated to a “variant of concern.”
The 3 things about Omicron that make it SUPER concerning:
- The specific mutations on the spike protein
- The number of mutations in this virus
- The fact that this FASTEST spreading COVID Variant
The Covid Omicron variant emerged in South Africa. It was first discovered by scientists a few days ago. It has over 30 mutations on the spike protein that raise concerns that it might be more contagious, possibly cause more severe infection, and might evade our vaccines. This is not known for sure, but there is a HIGH level of concern, mainly because of how FAST this virus is spreading there.
The question is, will our vaccines still be effective against the Omicron variant?
That was the concern when Delta came out, and thankfully, our vaccines remain effective against Delta. But Delta doesn’t have the same number of mutations as Omicron, and the big FEAR this virus evading our immune system might come true.
I mean, we’ve had new variants emerge. We have seen many variants pop up over the last 8 months, and most of them, for example, Lamda, have not amounted to much. I mean, you hear about these new variants emerging all the time. They’re expected. And they’re detected because scientists are constantly running surveillance on COVID.
But here we are with the new one, Omicron. It has a certain level of concern, not just because it has MORE mutations in its spike protein, over 30 mutations, but also because some of those mutations are the SAME mutations as the other 4 variants of concern. But we won’t know if this variant will escape our vaccines until probably a few weeks from now because it takes time to do these studies.
Keep in mind that whenever there is a new virus, just like in Wuhan, by the time you identify, you are already a few weeks behind it, which means it’s already spread, most likely throughout the world.
When you look at one of these mutations on the spike protein, any given mutation can clue you in as far as its ability to potentially evade the immune system’s antibodies. So what you do is duplicate that new spike protein, mix it with the different antibodies, and hope that the antibodies stick to that spike protein. If it’s not sticking, that means you have a problem. So this is what SCIENTISTS are going to be looking at ASAP. I would expect these test results to become public in the next couple of weeks.
Is it possible that the Omicron Variant is in the US?
As of right now, there are no confirmed cases here. But it’s only a matter of time. We do know that it went to Botswana and made its way to Hong Kong and Belgium. So it may be in the US, but as of the making of this video, there are no confirmed cases, which speaks to just how fresh this new variant is. A specimen from the first known case in South Africa was collected on November 9 and spread quickly there.
To test for it, you have first to get the exact molecular blueprint of the new strain, so US scientists are collaborating with South African scientists to make this happen, which is my guess will take a few days. So scientists will have some preliminary data in a few days to know if it will escape vaccines.
But I have to say; I do not have a good feeling about Omicron.
The specific mutations, the number of mutations, and how QUICKLY it became dominant in South Africa. Meaning how fast a particular strain spreads in a particular area. We’re talking days to weeks as opposed to Delta, which took months. WHO officials also said in their statement Friday preliminary evidence suggests Omicron also poses a higher risk of reinfection than other variants of concern.
And when scientists see this, it’s no wonder why world leaders react quickly to this by announcing new travel restrictions. How effective those travel restrictions are, is another conversation. Regardless, President Biden said he would restrict travel from South Africa and seven other nations starting Monday.
You already have vaccine makers getting ready too. Even testing Omicron-specific boosters.
Doctor Mike Hansen, MD
Internal Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine
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