New “Omicron” variant detected in South Africa raises concerns

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The “newest” word in the world of COVID is “Omicron.” And as we mentioned, it’s a new variant of the coronavirus that was originally identified last week in South Africa, but is now reported to be in a number of other countries. For more on this latest COVID concern, we spoke to David Engelthaler, of the Pathogen-Genomics Division at TGen North.

Engelthaler said omicron isn’t just a new version of the previously more infectious delta variant, it is a completely new variant of covid-19.

“It seems to have its own set of mutations that apparently make it act differently,” Engelthaler said.

There is not enough information to accurately compare this variant to the Delta variant, however Engelthaler said the early indications in South Africa show this variant is outpacing the delta variant currently in the same region. Omicron has shown some mutations that have previously been associated with antibody escape, which is when antibodies from vaccines don’t attach to the protein as well which means the potential for decreased vaccine effectiveness.

Engelthaler said vaccinations are still the ultimate protection against any variant of covid, even if effectiveness decreases they should still prevent serious illness or hospitalization.

“A little bit less effective is still better than no immune response and getting hit by this thing for the first time or having this very low level of immune response,” Engelthaler said.

Engelthaler said variants will continue to emerge every once in a while due to the changing nature of the coronavirus, however he doesn’t view this as a negative so long as vaccination numbers improve.

“These variants will pop up and still spread in the community but at worst we’d get a pretty good cold from it and get past it and hopefully then we’ve got enough of an immune response for the next year or two before we get hit again and we cna prevent that with updated boosters,” Engelthaler said.

David Engelthaler, Director and Associate Professor of the Pathogen Genomics Division, TGen North

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