FAQs About Omicron: How Fast Is It Spreading, Will Vaccines Work Against it, Is it a Sign that the Pandemic is Ending?
What we know so far about the new COVID variant.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has been detected in over 30 countries with still no fatalities thus far, has been touted as a possibly worse version of the Delta variant.
Earlier seen as the predominant coronavirus variant in countries like the United States, the world feared Delta for its qualities such as being more contagious by at least double compared to previous variants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But just as dangerous as any variant is the lack of accurate and substantial information that one needs to stay protected.
Here’s what we know so far based on advisories from the CDC and the World Health Organization, expert interviews by media, and excerpts from leading medical journals.
What remains unknown about Omicron?
We still do not exactly know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and how well available vaccines and medications work against it.
How are its numbers compared to other variants?
Notwithstanding the world’s increased attention to Omicron, Delta remains as the dominant variant circulating around the world, particularly in the United States. All COVID-19 variants can cause severe disease or death, particularly for the most vulnerable members of the population. Prevention is still key.
How easily does Omicron spread?
It will likely spread more easily than the original COVID 19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). But it is currently unknown just how easily it will spread relative to Delta. The CDC expects that anyone infected with Omicron can spread the virus to others regardless if they are vaccinated or don’t present symptoms.
It is only an estimate by evolutionary biologist Tom Wenseleers that Omicron can infect as much as three to six times as many people as Delta over the same time period.
Are vaccines effective against Omicron?
Available vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with Omicron. Notwithstanding, breakthrough infections are still likely to occur even in those who are fully vaccinated.
In the case of Delta, vaccines have helped to prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Similarly, vaccination and boosters are likewise recommended to protect against infection during this outbreak of Omicron.
Are existing treatments effective against Omicron?
Scientists are still determining the effectiveness of existing treatments against COVID-19 for Omicron. Based on its changed genetic makeup, there are some treatments that are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective.
How long will it take before we sufficiently understand Omicron?
Understanding the severity of Omicron will take days to several weeks.
How can we protect ourselves individually against Omicron?
The CDC said we already have the necessary tools to fight Omicron: vaccines, masks, and tests including self-tests. Additional recommendations by WHO include social distancing, improving ventilation, avoiding poorly ventilated and/or crowded spaces, and proper hygiene practices like handwashing.
What can countries do about Omicron?
Since Omicron has been designated as a Variant of Concern, WHO has a few recommendations. These include enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases, sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, reporting initial cases or clusters, and performing field investigations and laboratory assessments to better understand Omicron’s characteristics.
Does Omicron signal the future or end of the pandemic?
As reported by The Sydney Morning Herald, experts are waiting for a COVID-19 variant that is more infectious but less virulent. In other words, a COVID strain that might be more contagious and transmissible but leads to less severe outcomes. This could be in the form of low hospitalizations and deaths compared to total infections.
However, data and information remain scarce in the context of Omicron to prove such a hypothesis.