By Pat Carragher - December 01, 2021
The latest COVID-19 mutation, known as the omicron variant, has public health officials worried. The World Health Organization has called omicron a “variant of concern” because of the high number of mutations that have the potential to make the virus more transmissible. So far, cases have been identified in more than 20 countries including the United States.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution met today to review what is known about the #COVID19 variant B.1.1.529.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) November 26, 2021
They advised WHO that it should be designated a Variant of Concern.
WHO has named it Omicron, in line with naming protocols https://t.co/bSbVas9yds pic.twitter.com/Gev1zIt1Ek
With any new variant of concern, questions quickly arise regarding the efficacy of the current lineup of available COVID-19 vaccines.
“With the degree of mutation, the concern is that antibodies won’t be able to stop it because it has changed compared to other variants,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. “The big question is, ‘Is it going to have enough fitness, with all these mutations, to actually outcompete and replace the delta variant?’ ”
Vaccines Offer Protection
While some countries have begun banning flights from foreign travelers, public health experts have yet to find concrete evidence that omicron is more dangerous than previous variants like delta. The same can be said for vaccine efficacy. While the delta variant turned out to be more transmissible than its predecessors, there isn’t enough data to suggest that either variant can’t be curbed by the current crop of COVID vaccines.
“Right now the answer is no, there’s no information that says we’re going to need a different vaccine,” said Greene. “We haven’t seen any evidence that this configuration of the mutations on the spike protein is not going to be covered by your current antibody or immune system.”
Earlier this week, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson each said that they were studying omicron and expressed confidence they can tweak existing formulations to make the shots more effective against new variants.
Who Is Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster?
Public health officials agree that the best thing you can do right now to protect yourself from omicron and other COVID-19 variants is to get vaccinated, and if you’re eligible, get a booster.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends all people ages 5 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC recommends children ages 5-11 be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.
Booster shots are recommended for all adults who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine six or more months ago, and adults who received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine two or more months ago.
“This is more reason to hurry up and get your booster shot so that everybody’s antibody levels will be maxed,” said Greene. “That will give you the greatest chance to not get sick from this variant.”