Whenever a new variant of a virus emerges there are 3 key factors that need to be identified:
- Transmission – is the new variant more or less transmissible? by what route – same or different? will previous/current strategies offer effective protection?
- Pathogenicity – is the new variant likely to cause more or less harm than current known virus and variants?
- Prior immunity – does prior immunity to the virus (either from vaccines or survivor immunity) continue to provide protection against the new variant(s)?
Transmission: it remains unclear just how infectious Omicron is but the concern of higher infectivity is very real.
Pathogenecity : again, this remains unclear. From reports so far, it does not appear to cause a more severe infection – that is to say that – from reports received, particularly within vaccinated individuals, no serious cases have been identified.
Prior immunity : the lack of serious infection reported in vaccinated people suggests at least some degree of immunity is present. However, further information is required, especially about the implications of the number of spike protein mutations the Omicron variant has – lab studies are already underway.
The key concern here is that in other strains, multiple spike mutations have been associated with resistance to monoclonal antibodies and increased transmissibility.
Of note this variant was first picked up in a country with low vaccination rates – so it cannot be concluded that vaccines do NOT offer protection.
WHO Recommended actions for people
The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to :
- get vaccinated when it’s your turn
- keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre from others;
- keep hands clean;
- cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue (bin tissue and wash hands afterwards);
- wear a well-fitting mask;
- open windows to improve ventilation;
- avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces;
WHO COVID Mythbusters : available here
UK Public Health Advice
The Prime Minister has announced new measures in response to the Omicron variant, including face coverings in shops and on public transport:
PCR tests on or before day 2 for all international arrivals and self-isolation for contacts of suspected Omicron cases, including for those who are fully-vaccinated.
NB Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also advising to work from home if possible.