We were heading towards a normal life after 18-20 months of horrifying Covid-19 Pandemic and strict lockdowns across the globe, a new variant has been identified in South Africa. The variant called Omicron or B.1.1529 has made the scientific community worried, as they fear the new variant will cause a ruckus in various countries and will shake the health systems. WHO named the variant based on its severity and transmission speed.
The WHO declared Omicron as the Variant of Concern, followed by a Technical advisory group on Friday.
The experts have shared their worries after the swift jump from Variant of Interest to Variant of Concern, as the difference is significant and wide. According to the reports, new Variant is can cause an increase in transmissibility, severe diseases such as deaths or hospitalization. The variant has about 50 mutations, including more than 30 on spike protein alone. Spike protein is the most conspicuous part of a virus that latches on the surface of human cells.
Although no official data is available on its transmission speed, followed by the sudden increase in cases of new variants in South Africa, experts believe it could have an increased rate of transmissibility than other variants.
What are the Symptoms you need to pay attention to?
Chairperson of South Africa Medical Association, Dr. Angliquee Coetzee, who found the new variant while addressing the press, said that symptoms of Omicron are normal and moderate compared to other variants. Symptoms include expressive exhaustion, itchy throat, headaches, and body aches, etc. However, compared to the delta variant, Omicron sees no change in smell or taste, blockage of nose, or drop in oxygen levels. However, as it’s new and yet to be researched, it will take time to understand the severity level.
What WHO has to say about the new Omicron?
According to WHO, the level of severity caused by Omicron is unclear compared to the diseases and infections caused by other variants like a delta. According to data, hospitalization rates are increasing rapidly in South Africa, but it could be due to an increase in the number of general transmissions among people. All Covid-19 variants including Omega, Delta, etc can cause severe illness, death, especially among vulnerable people.
Are the available vaccines effective for new variants?
Vaccines are the main source of protection from Covid-19, to curb the spread of the virus and reduce the impact of the virus over the large community vaccines have to play a large role. Vaccine makers and scientists say it would take a time of 2 to 3 weeks before they get a better idea about how effective vaccines produced by various companies can be to protect against the mutation of Omicron. However, as per the experts, due to more than 30 spike protein mutations in Omicron, it could possibly render the effectiveness of vaccines. Considering the fact that vaccines are created with spike protein present in virus, and its variants to detect and neutralize, but the presence of 50 mutations in total and more than 30 Spike protein in Omicron, the effectiveness of vaccines is a matter of concern.
What is the future course of action?
The WHO is with partners to understand the impact of viruses, including the effectiveness of existing vaccines. Currently, vaccines are critical to reduce the impact of deaths and neutralize the virus. Various studies have already started to understand the impact of viruses over various tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.
More information will be released by WHO in the coming weeks; TAG-VE will continue to monitor the impact and all the vaccine-making companies have started their research to understand how vaccines can be improved if current vaccines can be effective with booster doses.
Need to remain Conscious and vigilance
Health officials and governments need to take quick and strict actions by increasing surveillance and facilities of testing Covid-19.
People have to do their part by following all the required precautions and guidelines announced by governments. If we are able to control the spread of the New variant, we can continue to run back into our normal life and reduce the impact of the virus, unlike the delta that caused a huge hole in health systems and economies.