There have been a lot of reports in the last week regarding a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 known simply as Omicron. The reason for the concern is that like the previously reported Delta variant (also a VOC) this virus has altered some of its surface proteins which can change the expected behavior of the virus and its response to vaccines that are currently available.
First identified in South Africa, Omicron (B.1.1.529) has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning but further evaluation will take several weeks to define the epidemiology and if any new strategies will be required.
All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no impact on the virus’ properties. However, some changes may affect how easily it spreads, the disease’s severity, or the effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutic medicines, diagnostic tools, or other public health and social measures.
During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the characterization of variants as they are discovered.
Variant(s) of Concern (VOCs):
– Delta [B.1.617.2]
– Omicron [B.1.1.529]
What makes the Omicron variant so concerning is the number of substitutions of the spike protein. There are at least 30 amino acid substitutions, three small deletions, and one small insertion. Notably, 15 of the 30 amino acid substitutions are in the receptor binding domain (RBD). The receptor binding affinity alterations can result in increased transmissibility.
Effectiveness of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection Preliminary evidence suggests there
MAY be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (ie, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron) but information is limited.
More information on this will continue to develop in the coming days and weeks.
Effectiveness of vaccines: The potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines could be effected. Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta.
Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.
Effectiveness of current tests: The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron.
Effectiveness of current treatments: Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.
What does it mean me?
Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as:
Wearing well-fitting masks.
Improving ventilation of indoor spaces.
Avoiding crowded spaces.
Getting vaccinated. (Booster/3rd shot if identified as effective in reducing infection)
Dr. Kevin D. Kiely, D.M.D
Oral Maxillofacial Surgery