The Omicron Variant: A Variant of Concern


A deadly virus, SARS-CoV-2, was first detected in late 2019 in the region of Wuhan, China. A few weeks later, the World Health Organization declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as a global pandemic. Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary greatly, starting from mild cough and fever to severe respiratory issues that ultimately led to emergency hospital visits and sometimes even death. This was an alarming situation for people around the world and has severely impacted the world economy and global healthcare systems. 

OMICRON -The Emerging Variant

As time passes, the virus mutates endlessly which we see with the increase in the number of variants that keeps taking the world by a storm. With the latest variant, Omicron poses a significant burden on the healthcare systems leaving the doctors and researchers wondering if this is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What are Coronavirus Variants?
Viruses mutate over time gradually and the outcome of these mutations are known as Variants. They adapt to the environment and become more resistant. Mutation of COVID-19 virus was neither new nor something unusual, in fact all RNA viruses mutate with time. The virus will keep mutating as it cuts through the global population. Most variants just come and go while some of them stay longer and spread throughout. With Omicron being the latest variant, here is the list of COVID-19 Variants of concern:

  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Gamma
  • Delta

Variants of concern are the ones that are thought to be more infectious, more transmissible, may also be more severe. They are more likely to evade diagnostic tests, and are less responsive to treatments and vaccines.

In order to prevent the new viral mutations, we need to take all the necessary precautions to stop the transmission of viruses. Simultaneously, a collective effort is required to vaccinate as many people as we can, as soon as possible. 

Omicron Variant

Omicron has been declared as the ‘Variant of Concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) just after a week of its discovery. It was first discovered in South Africa in November 2021. The Omicron variant surged around the world in just a few weeks, much faster than any other previous variant. We are still in the process of learning and understanding about this latest variant of COVID-19 and its implication on global health. However, what we do know is that the Omicron variant can have all the symptoms of the other COVID-19 variants. 

According to initial reports, we’ve learned that the Omicron variant is less severe than its prior variants. However, this statement can be a bit misleading because it is more likely to spread rapidly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. Even though it is a variant that is less severe, for people who are at high-risk, it can be life-threatening. People with underlying health conditions, immunocompromised health status, and declining age are at an increased risk of getting severe infections. 

Since the virus is highly contagious, it means more people are getting the infection. COVID-19 and its variants is an unprecedented challenge that the global healthcare systems were never prepared for. With the spread of the Omicron variant like a wildfire, healthcare systems have further taken a hit. 

Omicron’s Presence in the United States

The Omicron’s cases are increasing throughout the country. It has not gone down without burdening the healthcare system and infecting millions of people.
The threat has not yet passed though, positive cases are still very high as compared to the previous variant surges. All symptoms of COVID-19 may not be present in all positive cases but they can vary from one to various other symptoms among people.

According to initial assessment of this variant, it was established that Omicron is less deadly than prior variants. But because of its high transmissibility, a larger number of people are affected by it. Even a smaller curve of deaths can take a huge toll on the healthcare system. Till date, deaths have not exceeded in comparison to previous peaks but hospitalizations have reached an all-high as compared to any other time throughout the pandemic. Other than patients, healthcare workers are equally as affected by the deadly virus. This is one added factor that is further overwhelming emergency departments and intensive care units.

Can Vaccines Limit the Symptoms of COVID-19?
Vaccines have proven to be the best tool in protecting communities from COVID-19. Vaccines do not stop you from contacting the virus instead, it simply reduces the severity of COVID-19 and prevents deaths. According to studies, people who have been previously vaccinated and received their booster shots experience less severe symptoms of COVID-19. Booster shots are known to increase vaccine effectiveness by 80%. However, scientists and researchers are still in the process of investigating Omicron and its effectiveness against the vaccines.

The increasing spread of the virus has left people concerned and has overburdened healthcare systems. To ensure the safety of your loved ones and your community, just follow some of these simple SOPs that are standard everywhere around the world and have been further enforced by the WHO.  

  1. Wear a mask in public indoor settings and crowded areas, regardless of vaccination status.
  2. Avoid poorly ventilated spaces.
    3. Wash your hands regularly.
  3. CDC recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated.
  4. Get yourself tested if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.

    There is a definite disparity in vaccination rates amongst high income and low income nations. In order to eliminate COVID-19, we need to speed up the vaccination process across the globe regardless of financial or social status.

    Prior COVID-19 Infection vs. Omicron
    Numerous research studies have been released and clinical trials have been conducted since the viral outbreak. According to WHO reports, following all the SOPs and not getting vaccinated offers less protection against Omicron virus. Individuals who recover from prior variants develop immunity to some extent against the virus. However, there is a strong need for vaccination regardless of the fact that you’ve been exposed to COVID previously since the body’s natural immunity is not strong enough to fight off the virus.

    Research and Omicron
    Research studies about the Omicron variant have been largely carried out throughout the world. Many pharmaceutical companies are coming up with various therapies including vaccinations, and treatments but nothing Omicron-specific has yet made its way to the market. There are multiple CROs and pharmaceuticals conducting clinical trials for COVID-19 in USA and contributing to our understanding of this outbreak.

    The New Normal After Omicron
    The pandemic is bringing a new perspective to something that has always remained invisible; a simple virus. Life is becoming more remote and things are becoming more accessible without being present in person. Over the last two years, our ways have changed so much, from socializing to working, everything has gone digital.
    As the outbreak unfolded into tragedies of death and suffering, we’ve had to come face-to-face with a lot of difficult realities.
    Our goal is to control the Omicron spread and improve the quality of lives.

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