What You Should Know about the COVID-19 Omicron Variant

Vaishnavi Bhat, Print Editor in Chief

On Dec 1, the first confirmed case of Omicron was detected in the United States, making it the 23rd country to have reported instances of the variant. It is said to have initially entered America on Nov 22 through a San Francisco resident who had recently traveled to South Africa. Designated to be a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Omicron variant has caused severe nervousness throughout the world. Moreover, the WHO has indicated that this variant has a very high global risk, prompting the President of the United States to encourage Americans to get fully vaccinated and even utilize a booster shot. The Biden administration has now installed several travel bans on countries in southern Africa, and set in place regulations regarding testing within 24 hours prior to a plane departure to prevent the further spread of this unusual and deadly variant.

The variant was first discovered in Botswana, reportedly affecting four fully-vaccinated individuals and proving to scientists that it has the ability to overcome the vaccine dosage and circulate for longer than the average virus. A stronger vaccine is being developed for those who are highly susceptible to the variant, since Omicron’s composition of mutations may enable it to spread faster than anticipated. Furthermore, upon initial observation of the mutation, researchers see many changes from the rather benign primary mutations, suggesting that the virus may continue to evolve for longer than expected.  Therefore, students feel the need to cohere with regulations.

“I believe that this new variant has the potential to cause another lockdown, so it is incredibly important that everyone continue adhering to CDC guidelines and suggestions,” said senior Likhitha Chintalapati. “By avoiding excessive travel and close contact with strangers, we will be able to avoid long periods of quarantine once again.”

Officials disclosed that the variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that it may have a drastic growth advantage. For this reason, the FDA-approved booster shot has been administered at growing rates. Although skeptics first believed that Omicron has far too many mutations for the booster to be fully effective, research proves that these shots offer the best defense against the variant. The New York Times stated that the “booster shots clearly raise antibody levels, strengthening the body’s defenses against infection, and may help offset whatever advantages Omicron has gained through evolution.” A booster shot is further recommended and beneficial to all because data shows that protection from regular COVID-19 is reducing over time, especially for those who were vaccinated a while ago.

“Especially since vaccines are now available for anyone 5 years of age or older, I believe it is important for everyone eligible to receive at least their first two doses,” said Chintalapati. “We will be able to keep from raising Omicron death rates if everyone follows the advice of officials and doctors.”

Currently, researchers are working on interpreting the effects of Omicron and conducting studies to learn more about its transmissibility and severity. The symptoms for one suffering from the Omicron disease seem to be the same as those of COVID, however subsequent findings may help uncover more complexities. As of Friday, Dec 10, exactly half of all the United States had confirmed Omicron cases. The CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla claims that “ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Talks of how to further protect oneself from the variant have been spreading as the variant grows more popular. It is rumored that the winter is bound to bring many more outbreaks, so the best way to prevent Omicron is by wearing masks in crowded spaces or among high-risk crowds. According to the New York Times, President Biden has been planning on launching “family mobile vaccination clinics” in order to increase convenience for families to get vaccines and booster shots at the same time. Further strategies and tactics are underway in order to protect the population, and by following guidelines, abiding by restrictions, and taking extra precautions to stay healthy and safe, everyone can  do their part in protecting the world from this lethal new variant.