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What is the Omicron variant and what do I need to know about it?
General Wellness

What is the Omicron variant and what do I need to know about it?

By Shirin Mazumder, MD, Infectious Disease Expert
Posted: November 30, 2021

You may be seeing headlines about the newest COVID-19 variant scientists discovered which is being called Omicron. When there is so much misinformation on social media, it is difficult to know what information you can trust. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare is committed to always providing evidence-based research you can rely on. We will update this blog post as we learn new information regarding the latest developments with the Omicron variant.

What we know about the Omicron variant

  • The World Health Organization classified the new variant as a variant of concern on November 26, 2021. This is not a time to panic, but rather a time to be vigilant.
  • Researchers in South Africa were first to report the Omicron variant to the World Health Organization.
  • Omicron has since been detected in a growing number of countries and regions including: across southern Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada, and the United States.
  • Omicron has several mutations that affect the spike protein which may allow the virus to more easily enter the host cell and replicate.
    • Scientists are working to discover if the variant could evade immunity.
    • According to the World Health Organization, there is preliminary evidence that the Omicron variant may pose a higher risk of reinfection.
  • Researchers are already studying the effectiveness of the currently available vaccines against this new variant.
    • In a couple of weeks, data should be available about how well the current vaccines protect against the Omicron variant.
  • The Delta variant remains the dominant COVID-19 strain around the world.
    • COVID-19 vaccines that are available are extremely safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death caused by the Delta variant.
    • This is why it is so important for everyone who is eligible to receive their first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine, or to receive their COVID-19 booster shot.

What we do not know about the Omicron variant

  • It is too soon to tell if Omicron causes more severe illness than any other COVID-19 variant.
  • We do not know how quickly this new variant spreads.
    • The Omicron variant has spread rapidly in South Africa but the data regarding transmissibility is still being investigated.
  • It is too soon to determine the effectiveness of current vaccines against Omicron.
    • To date, there has never been a variant that has completely evaded the protection provided by the COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines are our best line of defense against COVID-19, and it is critical that people who are eligible receive their first and second doses of the vaccine – or receive their booster if they are eligible.


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What does the discovery of this variant mean for the Mid-South?

  • The great news is that safety measures health officials have promoted since the beginning of the pandemic continue to be the best line of defense.
    • Effective tools are available to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.
      • If you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, you should get one.
      • If you are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine booster, now is the perfect time for that shot.
      • Wear a tight-fitting mask when around crowds of people.
      • Frequently wash your hands.
      • Socially distance yourself from other people who don’t live in your household.
      • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing any symptoms.
      • Isolate if you test positive for COVID-19 to prevent the spread to others.
    • This is a time for everyone to remain vigilant and not panic.
    • Consume reliable information from health experts at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

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