Same virus, new variant. Should you still worry about Omicron if you’re vaccinated and continue to wear your face mask? Here’s what experts want you to know.
Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, was first identified by South African scientists, prompting travel restrictions and additional pandemic anxiety. Now, more than a dozen countries have reported cases of the new variant. And this past week, the strain was labeled as a variant of concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While a new variant that shows more capacity for contagion is cause for concern and extra precaution, there is still a lot we don’t know. Despite the panic that’s likely clogging your news feeds, new variants will continue to reappear as long as there are people who remain unvaccinated.
While Omicron is looking different than the rest, we’ll have to wait a week or two before we know what it means. For now, here’s what you should know.
It will take some time to know how dangerous it is
While people may be talking about Omicron’s many mutations and apparent stronger edge, we don’t have enough information to make these sorts of assumptions. We will likely have to wait a few weeks to see if the variant is stronger than Delta and if it’s capable of lowering the efficacy of vaccines.
“They have a number of patients that they’re following in the medical facilities, and they assured us that they would know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half, as to whether or not we’re dealing with something that, for the most part, is more severe, equally as severe or less severe. It could be either of them,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.
It appears to be more transmissible
The Omicron variant was highly transmissible in South Africa, which, again, doesn’t mean much. It could behave differently in other countries, where Delta has taken center stage and has remained the dominant variant.
Since Omicron has similar mutations to the Delta variant, it likely transmits just as fast as Delta or even faster, at least in South Africa.
Vaccines and face masks remain the go-to precautionary measure
Vaccine makers are concerned about Omicron, especially since it has so many mutations. Experts have talked about the possibility of making more vaccines for this type of COVID-19 strain. “[Moderna] and Pfizer cannot get a billion doses next week. The maths doesn’t work. But could we get the billion doses out by the summer? Sure,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times. Other options that experts are considering would be to offer a booster with a larger dose of the virus.
Still, we don’t know if that will be the case. Despite the variant’s mutations, the current vaccines remain the most efficient way of dealing with the virus, especially right now as we’re coming into the holiday season and cases will inevitably rise. Another safety precaution people could take in the coming weeks would be to go back to wearing face masks on all indoor locations and when located in crowded outdoor spaces.