Omicron: The Latest Coronavirus Variant


In just a few weeks, scientists have discovered that the Omicron coronavirus variant is the most transmissible variant so far, and is the most resistant to the vaccine.

Discovered in South Africa, its origin is unknown. Omicron was likely discovered because highly developed sequencing labs, a legacy from the HIV and tuberculosis epidemic, have shifted to emphasize research on the coronavirus.

As of December 11th, the CDC says that 25 states in the United States have confirmed Omicron cases with the first case confirmed in mid-November. Health officials say most cases have been in young persons and nearly 80% have received the vaccine and some have booster shots.

On December 6th, President Biden announced that the U.S. banned non-citizen travel from 8 African countries including South Africa regardless of vaccine status. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the decision was “a shot in the dark and done to give us time to figure out what’s going on… hopefully we’ll be able to lift that ban within a quite reasonable period of time.”

While it’s too early to say how severe this variant could be, it has been shown to mirror the side-effects of previous variants. Peter McGinn, Ohio’s first confirmed case, received the vaccine and booster and said “I honestly felt like it was a cold.”

While Omicron has been able to transmit faster than any variant before it, Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and former co-chair of the country’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, says, “Cases are generally mild… but it’s too early to write off.” He says “even though this virus is transmitting faster, we aren’t seeing that same early pressure.”

Karim mentions that much of this is due to the widespread emphasis on receiving vaccines and boosters. “[We use] very standard treatments and regiments [and] they seem to be working fine.” The real concern for Karim is if vaccines/boosters can hold against it.

Hospitalizations have increased by 40% since arriving in the United States yet Rochelle Walensky, the CDC Director, says, “Still, over 99% percent of cases in this country… are caused by the Delta variant.”

In Maryland, there has been a spike of 100,000 new cases, which is unlike anything seen in the past two months (Johns Hopkins). On December 3rd, three cases were identified in Maryland, all from the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Governor Larry Hogan says, “Our entire team is continuing to very closely monitor this situation. I am urging Marylanders to not panic, be safe and to use common sense. This is not the first variant we have seen, and it will not be the last.”

Dec 2nd saw a large spike in Covid-19 cases, however, Andrew Pekosz of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says, “The timing of this is pretty well coincided with travel from Thanksgiving season”…“Omicron will evade some vaccine induced immunity but it won’t evade all of it… the more antibodies you have the better off… you’ll be able to fight off the severe disease.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, while on CNN, said, “Boosters are going to be really critical in addressing whether or not we’re going to be able to handle this.”

Unfortunately, the latest studies by the South African Medical Research Council have found that within those with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, it is only 33% effective against infection.

“We really have to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe… but the signals are a bit encouraging regarding severity,” Fauci said.

BioTech researchers have begun working on an Omicron vaccine said to be available in March, but specifics have not yet been released.