New Omicron COVID variant raises concerns worldwide

New Omicron COVID variant raises concerns worldwide

During the coronaviruses disease COVID 19, travelers line up for a COVID 19 test in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. November 26, 2021. REUTERS Carlo Allegri REUTERS

Nov 27 Reuters -- The new Omicron coronaviruses - variant - first identified in South Africa but also detected in Europe and Asia -- is raising concerns worldwide due to the number of mutations that could help it spread or even evade antibodies from prior infection or vaccination.

The variant prompted countries to announce new travel restrictions on Friday and sent drugmakers scrambling to see if their COVID 19 vaccines are protective.

The B was classified by the World Health Organization on Friday. As a SARS-CoV variant of concern, the 529 variant, or Omicron, said it may spread more quickly than other forms of coronaviruses.

The Delta variant remains dominant in the U.S., accounting for 99.9% of U.S. cases, and it is not yet known whether Omicron will be able to replace Delta, said Dr. Graham Snyder, medical director, infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The vaccine that current vaccines target has over 30 mutations in it. In South Africa, it is believed that it is responsible for a spike in new infections.

Professor David Ho, professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, said that Omicron's mutations are likely to render certain COVID 19 treatments ineffective.

Experimental antiviral pills such as Pfizer Inc's PFE.N Paxlovid and Merck Co Inc's MRK.N molnupiravir target parts of the virus are not changed in Omicron, and these drugs could become even more important if vaccine-induced and natural immunity is threatened, such as Pfizer Inc.'s PFE.N Paxlovid and Merck Co Inc's MRK.N molnupiravir

Scientists say it could be several more weeks before they can define the type of disease caused by the variant, determine how contagious it is and determine how far it has already spread.

Other variants of concern, including Beta, were first detected in South Africa, but were eventually replaced by Delta.

Will people who have previously been infected with the coronaviruses be immune from infection with Omicron?

Experts don't know if Omicron will cause more or less severe COVID - 19 compared to other coronaviruses strains.

Omicron has not yet been identified in the United States, but it's likely that it's already here, scientists said.

Even without the new variant, U.S. COVID 19 rates have increased in recent weeks, mainly in northern states, as people move indoors to avoid winter weather.

Some countries have put limits on travel from southern Africa. Snyder of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that individuals should still assess their own vulnerability to COVID and tolerance for risk as they make travel decisions for the winter holidays, beyond government restrictions.

He and others said that vaccination should remain a priority despite questions about effectiveness against Omicron, because it is likely that they still remain protective to a certain extent. Everyone should wear masks, avoid crowds, ventilate rooms, and wash hands.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, said that all of those tools will work against any variant.