Days after its discovery, fears over the omicron COVID-19 variant spread across the world, dropping stocks, causing travel restrictions and drawing international attention to a slight increase in cases in South Africa.
The reaction occurs weeks faster than the world’s slow response to the delta variant. By the time the delta was named a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization in May 2021, it had already spread to India for months and had been seeded across the world.
In contrast, omicron was first reported to the WHO on Tuesday as COVID cases in South Africa suddenly reached thousands a day. On Friday, he was named and called a “worrying variant”, the most serious type.
Even with the rapid reaction, cases have been reported among travelers in Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong and England, and Germany also has a probable case.
Experts applauded the WHO for moving quickly to sound the alarm on omicron, and South Africa for its swift and transparent reporting on the variant.
This will launch studies over the next few weeks on its contagiousness, virulence and “immune escape”, that is, its ability to resist an immune response from previous infections or vaccines, emergency doctor and professor of public health at George Washington University Dr. Leana said Wen.
“The alarm level at this point is very appropriate,” Wen told USA TODAY. “I would much prefer that we take action and then find out that in fact this variant responds very well to the vaccines we have.”
The first data is disturbing, but incomplete, according to experts.
The omicron variant outbreak in South Africa, where scientists first sounded the alarm on the spread of the variant, was like a “vertical line,” according to Dr. Eric Topol, vice president of research at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
“We haven’t seen anything like it,” he told USA TODAY. “The fall line is much higher than the original delta line.”
Topol said the number of disturbing mutations in the virus may make it more contagious than previous variants, and that it is likely to have progressed in an immunocompromised person.
Also in the news:
► The CDC this week lowered its percentage of adults vaccinated in Pennsylvania by nearly five percentage points, from 73.7% to 68.9%, in what was apparently a data correction to eliminate duplicates.
►The World Trade Organization is postponing its conference of ministers which will open on Tuesday after Switzerland launched new travel restrictions following the emergence of the omicron.
► Shares fell on Friday as the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly fell more than 1,000 points as investors reacted to omicron’s announcement.
??The numbers of the day: The United States has recorded more than 48.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 776,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: Over 260.5 million cases and over 5.1 million deaths. Over 196.1 millionAmericans – about 59% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
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With omicron ID, are any other travel restrictions coming?
Just as things were improving for airlines and the rest of the travel industry, another variant of COVID-19 emerged. The first reports of the omicron variant instantly triggered travel restrictions.
The United States, which on November 8 lifted a travel ban during a pandemic to dozens of international countries, including South Africa, will reinstate the ban on Monday for foreign nationals of eight African countries.
“We’re going to be careful to make sure there is no travel to and from South Africa and six other countries in that region. Except for US citizens who can come back, ”President Joe Biden said on Friday.
Read more on what travelers need to know about the new restrictions and the potential impact on travel in the coming months if the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the world.
– Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
Omicron’s impact on vaccines unclear, but contingency plans are already in place
Health experts have said it will likely be weeks before the world has good data on how omicron can reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines, but Moderna has already announced a three-point strategy to combat it. the new variant.
Omicron mutations could potentially reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines, but they are unlikely to eliminate their benefits, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
“There are a series of mutations in key regions that can impact the effectiveness of our vaccines,” Jha tweeted Friday. “Make vaccines unnecessary? No. Super unlikely. “
Moderna’s strategy involves three options to boost vaccination against COVID-19, if omicron proves problematic for current vaccines.
The three options, according to a statement released by the company Friday: a higher dose booster, injections currently under study designed to “anticipate mutations such as those that have appeared in the Omicron variant” and a booster specific to omicron – which is already in the works.
Andy Slavitt, who was previously President Joe Biden’s senior White House adviser on the COVID response, said in a tweet that Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech estimated that a vaccine to fight a new variant could be developed in about 3 months. months, with some regulatory elements and logistical dispatches to follow.
“If we start in early December, new vaccines could be available by the summer in much of the world,” Slavitt tweeted.
Several media outlets reported on Friday that Pfizer-BioNTech is studying the new variant and is expecting data in a few weeks. If warranted, a targeted vaccine could be developed within 6 weeks and shipped within 100 days, according to reports.
Johnson & Johnson is also testing its current omicron vaccine, according to CNBC.
– Joel Shannon, USA TODAY
Contribution: The Associated Press