What You Need to Know About the Omicron Variant

Analysis of the new coronavirus variant and how it impacts you.

There has been some concern about the new coronavirus variant Omicron and the effects it could have on governments all over the world. This new variant (B 1. 1. 529) originated in South Africa in November has led to such rapid rises that the Netherlands went into lockdown as this new variant spread rapidly and much more easily than Delta. But what are the facts about this new variant? How easily does it spread compared to the initial strain? And does it lead to more deaths than the initial strain? I’m going to help answer those questions using only opinions from experts in the medical field and evidence by the scientific community.

How Quickly Does Omicron Spread?

According to a preliminary study from the University of Hong Kong LKS Facility of Medicine the finding reveal that Omicron can infect and multiply 70 times faster than Delta within 24 hours. The new variant is more easily transmissible than the prior strain which is why countries are experiencing a large surge in case numbers even in heavily vaccinated ones. If you are feeling unwell and experiencing mild flu-like symptoms or came into contact with someone who tested positive get yourself tested right away and avoid large gatherings.

While that same study suggests that symptoms are much less severe with Omicron than Delta, the variants of the coronavirus are still nearly ten times more fatal than the common cold. The people who were least likely to be hospitalized were people who received three shots of the vaccine, which prevents severe symptoms from occurring. While the vaccine does not prevent you from getting the virus, the consensus is that it prevents you from being hospitalized from it. After all the coronavirus was 9.7 times more deadly than the seasonally flu average in the United States.

What Kind of Symptoms Do Patients Have?

According to Dr. Angelique Coetzee chair of the African Medical Association she detailed how one patient on November 18th was feeling tired, experienced muscle aches and pains, with a slight headache. However, there was no sore throat or loss of taste and smell, something that was evident in the prior strains. Although most of her South African patients were in their 20s and 30s this could be attributed to the fact that the median age in much younger at 27.6 versus 38.1 in the US.

The most common symptoms with the Omicron strain include a runny nose, fatigue, sore throat, and a headache. Although this study only analyzed 87 cases there seems to be a consensus that among the vaccinated populace symptoms are largely mild. But those who are unvaccinated the risk of dying is ten times higher than the common cold. Until other countries around the world are fully vaccinated, we will continue to see more variants develop and a solution to that is the TRIPS waiver. If the TRIPS waiver is allowed to go through (with Germany and the UK blocking it) it’ll finally allow countries the ability to create their own COVID vaccines for themselves rather than relying on weeks of delayed imports. Until then other countries in East Asia are helping South Africa.

How Does it Compare to the Original Strain?

For context it’s important to compare the Omicron strain to original strain which broke around the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan. In health statistics scientists use the R0 (R-naught) to calculate how quickly a disease is spreading over a period of time and how many people it infects (any value over one means it’s growing). The R0 for the strain in Wuhan was 2–3, the R0 for the Omicron strain as calculated by virologist Trevor Bedford of Fred Hutch is between 3 and 6. For every person in close proximity with the Omicron strain as many as six will become infected spreading the virus quickly. Meanwhile another study by Professor Alastair Grant of the University of East Anglia in the UK estimates that one case will infect 3.47 people in three days.

No Evidence to Suggest Higher Fatality Rates, Yet

We’re not sure if the omicron strain is any more or less lethal than Delta strain. So far there is insufficient data to suggest whether this strain has a higher or lower fatality rate than its ancestors. It doesn’t appear at the moment that this variant (B 1. 1. 529) is creating higher fatality rates than its ancestors over the last two years. That could change as more data is collected by scientists on the severity of this variant but only time will tell. And it can certainly vary for each individual.

It’s been about two months since this first strain was detected and it will take a little more time before we can figure out how the virus is behaving with a 48% Fully vaccinated world. The TRIPS waiver would help speed up local manufacturing of covid vaccines in South Africa instead of waiting for weeks.

How This Impacts Us

The severity of this new fourth wave we around beginning to experience around the world depends on several critical factors:

  • Winter versus Summer Season, Winters with confined spaces experience spikes of 20 to 30% as people remain indoors with others.
  • The percentage of that area fully vaccinated with booster shots (booster shots are 75% effective against this new strain).
  • Whether people are limiting the number of gathers to limit the spread.
  • The number of people covering both their mouth and nose with a mask, lessens the severity of the virus.
  • How much virus the person you come into contact with had.
  • How many people will remain unvaccinated over the next six months globally.

If you are skeptical about getting vaccinated the best person you can talk to is your family doctor, your nurse, your loved one, and your pharmacist. It’s not just about your safety it’s about making sure healthcare systems around the world do not collapse from the increasing weight of patients dying from ignorance.

Current Projections for the United States

The United States currently has 125 million Americans who are either partially or not vaccinated at all.

With 205 million Americans being fully vaccinated over 543,000 new cases were recorded on December 27th shattering all our previous records. At the current rate of climb based on my own estimates we are likely to see 800,000 to one million new cases daily over the next four to six weeks maybe even higher. Although we are in a better shape than last year it is remarkable how little attention has been paid to countries that are not allowed to produce their own vaccine. If we really care about ending this pandemic, we have to get everyone fully vaccinated especially in countries like Algeria, Yemen, Nigeria, Burma, Ghana, Kenya, Iraq, and South Africa. This is a crisis that a lockdown won’t prevent unless every other country is fully vaccinated.

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