The new Omicron variant of Covid-19 was first spotted in South Africa and is now reported to be in every continent.
Let me make this clear, the World Health Organization (WHO) currently does not have enough data in order to conclude if the new variant is more viral or more symptomatic than the Delta variant but, using the information they have been given currently, the WHO has considered the Omicron variant a Virus of Concern (VOC).
As of December 2nd, the CDC has reported a case found in California by a passenger who returned from South Africa. It has also been confirmed to be in at least 18 other countries, spanning across every habitable continent. The rapid spread of the virus could be explained by the mutations to the protein spike, which is the part of the virus focused on infecting and the main part of the virus that the vaccine targets.
These 30 or more protein spike mutations, compared to 7 in the Delta variant (aljazeera), could be detrimental to the effectiveness of the vaccine; the validity of this hypothesis is currently being researched in South Africa (Nature.com). These researchers, along with the many others, will be focusing on said vaccine effectiveness as well as its degree of symptoms and its rate at which it can spread.
This could also be a problem for people that believe in the controversial stance that the antibodies they build up from recovering from Covid-19 make them immune, with these new alterations to the virus people who already recovered from the virus are substantially likely to become reinfected (WHO.int).
Since South Africa’s discovery of the new variant, the economy has been in a limbo waiting for the research results, with the S & P 500 taking a ~3% dip in the span of 5 days. As of November 28th 56 countries are implementing travel restrictions, whether it be extended quarantine or barring anyone who has been to an infected country. (Reuters)
However, the WHO is criticizing travel bans, with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stating, “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” (Washington Post). Other experts have also said that it would be too late to put these restrictions as they likely have already spread across the globe.
As for what the leaders of the world have to say, the same they’ve said before, the Biden administration advised to get the vaccine, and if available, get the booster shot (whitehouse.gov). The administration has also called for a meeting with the World Trade Organization to get rid of the intellectual property of COVID vaccines so every manufacturer possible can produce these vaccines.
The good news is that both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are mRNA vaccines, which allow easy restructuring and modifying. This means Pfizer can adapt their vaccine to be as effective as possible against a variant within 6 weeks and ship that out within 3 months, even if the structure of the spike protein, which handles infections, is completely altered (Pfizer spokeswoman Jerica Pitts).
Currently the world just has to wait to know just how potent this new variant is (as of writing this). As for my advice, it is the same as every leader and every scientist, get your vaccine, get your booster shot if possible. “Even if there is reduction in efficacy, it is still better to get the vaccine because it will save your life,” (Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for covid-19 at the WHO)