Researchers are still studying the new omicron variant of Covid, but an expert has a blunt prediction.
“All the scientists I spoke to (…) say to themselves: ‘It’s not going to be good,'” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times on Tuesday.
At least two cases of omicron were detected in Canada on Sunday, marking its arrival in North America – about two weeks after the variant was first detected in South Africa on November 9. don’t be surprised “if omicron is already in the United States, in an interview with NBC’s” Weekend TODAY “on Saturday.
The next few weeks will be revealing, as scientists analyze the effectiveness of Covid vaccines against omicron and countries crack down on testing and tracing to identify where the variant is found. The World Health Organization said Monday that omicron poses a “very high” global risk.
In the meantime, several states have warned people to remain vigilant. New York City is back to “strongly recommend” masks in all indoor public places, regardless of immunization status, Department of Health and Hygiene Commissioner Dr David Chokshi told reporters on Monday. mental health of New York City.
You might be wondering what this means to you. Here’s what you need to know:
Is omicron more dangerous than the other variants?
Omicron contains disturbing characteristics that could make it more transmissible – especially in people who have already contracted and recovered from Covid, according to the WHO.
Most notably, the variant contains “a disturbing number of mutations in the spike protein,” Fauci told ABC “This Week” on Sunday. The spike protein is the part of the virus that clings to and enters your body cells, leading to Covid infection.
Omicron has over 30 spike protein mutations, compared to the original virus – many more than the delta variant. The function of these mutations is not yet fully understood, but some of them could make it easier for the virus to infiltrate human cells.
The WHO noted on Friday that “infections have risen sharply” in South Africa, alongside the discovery of omicron. Only 24% of the South African population is vaccinated, compared to 59% of the American population. Still, other countries can expect a similar pattern to unfold as the variant spreads, Fauci said.
Here is some potentially good news: So far, omicron has not caused any known deaths and its symptoms appear to be “extremely mild,” Dr Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, told the BBC. who discovered the variant. Sunday.
If this is true, it could mean that omicron mutations make it more easily transmitted, but less serious. (According to the WHO, there is no consensus yet that the symptoms of omicron differ from other variants.)
Do vaccines already protect against omicron?
It is too early to tell, which is no reason to panic. It just means that scientists are working to find out.
Given the many mutations of omicron, it could theoretically escape vaccine-induced protection. Bancel even said he anticipated a drop in the effectiveness of the vaccine. Researchers will likely have answers within the next two weeks by testing the antibodies of those vaccinated and seeing if they are able to neutralize the virus.
Even though omicron can escape these antibodies, vaccines still have the potential to protect against serious disease, BioNTech CEO and co-founder Dr. Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. This is because omicron “will hardly be able to completely escape T cells,” which are the body’s second line of defense against the virus, Sahin said.
Yet President Joe Biden on Monday called on the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the “fastest process available without cutting corners” to make specific vaccines available. to the omicron, if necessary.
It is not known who would be eligible for these vaccines, if they end up being approved.
Moderna says he’s already working on one, which could be ready to ship in early 2022, if needed. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday that his company was waiting for more data before acting – but could have its version ready in 100 days.
Non-vaccine treatments could also be a mixed bag. Pfizer’s Covid antiviral pill, Paxlovid – which has not yet been approved by the FDA – could work against variants like omicron, because it is designed to treat peak mutations, Bourla said.
But fellow drugmaker Regeneron said on Tuesday that its cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, along with any other similar drug, may be less effective against omicron than other variants. The company said it was exploring other alternatives.
Should you wait to get a booster until there is an omicron specific shot?
No. Get your booster as soon as you are eligible, regardless of omicron’s developments. In a statement Monday, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky specifically cited omicron as the reason eligible people should get their boosters.
Additionally, if current Covid vaccines are found to be effective against the new variant, omicron-specific injections may never be deemed necessary. Waiting for that response is a gamble akin to playing “mind games,” Fauci told “Meet the Press.”
And the longer you wait, the more likely you are to be infected with any of the variants of Covid currently in circulation – including the delta, which remains dangerous.
Since the booster raises your body’s antibody level high enough to protect you against all other known variants, it should give you “at least some degree, and maybe a lot of protection” against omicron, Fauci said.
What do you need to do differently to protect yourself against omicron?
Getting vaccinated and boosted, as well as wearing a mask in indoor public places, are the best ways to protect yourself and those around you.
“Don’t back down,” Fauci told NBC.Weekend TODAY. “
On Monday, the Biden administration restricted most air travel from South Africa and seven other countries: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Travel bans can’t completely prevent the virus from entering the country, but they “delay it enough to prepare us better,” Fauci said. The lockdowns are currently not being discussed, Biden said on Monday.
Even if omicron deteriorates, it is unlikely to reverse global progress in the fight against Covid.
Tests can easily detect omicron, promising therapies like antiviral pills are on the horizon and scientists know a lot more about the disease than in March 2020, said Dr Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted on Sunday.
Update: This story has been updated to include comments from BioNTech CEO Dr Ugur Sahin on the effectiveness of the Covid vaccine against the omicron variant.
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