The World Health Organization officially stamped the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant as a variant of concern (VOC) on November 26. Omicron was first identified in South Africa and has been detected in more than twenty-eight countries worldwide, including the United States.
The Omicron or B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 variant was reported from South Africa on November 24 coinciding with three spikes in infections consisting predominately of the Delta variant. However, the first known Omicron infection was collected on November 9th.
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Preliminary evidence shows there are a large number of mutations, that may suggest an increased risk of reinfection compared to other variants of concern. The number of cases of the Omicron variant appears to be increasing in all provinces in South Africa.
Omicron in the United States
On December 1st, the first U.S. reported case of the Omicron variant was detected in the U.S. in California. The individual had mild symptoms that are improving since self-quarantining, and all of the individual’s close contacts have tested negative.
Dr. Fauci announced in a press release, the infected individual was fully vaccinated but did not have a booster shot. At this time, there is not enough information to determine the nature of the variant, but Dr. Fauci postulates in two weeks, scientists will have answers. Data from other infected individuals around the world is needed to make any official statement about the transmissibility and severity of infection caused by the Omicron variant.
Vaccines are the Key Defense
The consistent emergence of new COVID-19 variants highlights the urgency for eligible people to get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot. At the time of writing, 75% of people 5 and older have received at least one vaccine dose. Historically speaking, vaccines have been effective in preventing many diseases.
Recently children aged 5-11 have been given emergency use authorization to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (BNT162b2) to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection. And studies support breastfeeding women can safely receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The CDC also officially expanded booster recommendations for everyone 18 years and older. The latest recommendation is 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says, “I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness. I also want to encourage people to get a COVID-19 test if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify Omicron quickly.”
Adalja, A. O. C. (2021, December 1). We don’t know enough about omicron to warrant panic. TheHill. https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/583690-we-dont-know-enough-about-omicron-to-warrant-panic
Chiwaya, N., Wu, J., & Murphy, J. (2021, December 1). Omicron map: Tracking the new Covid-19 variant around the world. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/data-graphics/omicron-map-tracking-new-covid-19-variant-world-rcna6983
Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern. (2021, November 26). Who.Int. https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern
Coronavirus Disease 2019. (2021, December 1). [Press release]. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1201-omicron-variant.html
Fauci announces first Omicron variant case in the US. (2021, December 1). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSKLhgAiMQI
Pullins, M. (2021a, November 11). EUA: Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 Vaccine for Children Ages 5–11 years. PEPID Pulse. http://blog.pepid.com/2021/11/11/eua-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-for-children-ages-5-11-years/
Seged Pharm D, S. (2021, October 14). The Emergence of the Delta Variant. PEPID Pulse. http://blog.pepid.com/2021/08/27/the-emergence-of-delta-variant/
Walensky, R. (2021, November 11). Coronavirus Disease 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 12, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1129-booster-recommendations.html