JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It is the first COVID-19 variant of concern since delta: omicron.
No cases have been identified in the United States yet, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has surveillance systems in place and expects the variant to be identified quickly if it emerges here.
New coronavirus variants crop up all the time. The omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants. Scientists don’t know why it’s spreading so fast, but they believe it has to do with the variants mutations.
“One reason is going to be the spike protein itself is what sort of dictates the infectiousness of a virus, right? So it’s what allows that virus to get into cells. If there are subtle changes in that protein, it may allow the virus to be much more efficient at infecting people,” said epidemiologist Dr. Jonathan Kantor, an epidemiologist with Penn Center for Epidemiology.
There are hints in the virus’s genes that vaccines could be less effective against it and that there could be a higher risk of reinfections.
“Everything we know right now suggests the vaccines probably are effective, at least to some degree. Hopefully, they are highly effective. What we are seeing right now suggests that it is possible, again just possible, that this variant could be slightly more efficient at evading prior immunity,” Kantor said.
Though doctors at the National Institutes of Health say there is no data at the present time to indicate the current vaccines wouldn’t work, all of the vaccine manufacturers are conducting tests and working on developing a booster if it should become necessary to have additional protection against this new variant.