NIH Director Francis Collins said Sunday that the Omicron variant could present challenges to existing vaccines. The new variant has a “record” number of mutations to the spike protein, the part of the virus that attaches to human cells, he said Omicron carries about 50 mutations not seen in combination before, including more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to attach to human cells.
Omicron variant protection through COVID-19 vaccine boosters, wearing masks and more are discussed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who also responds to GOP Rep. Ronny Jackson calling Omicron the ‘Midterm Election Variant.’
The Omicron variant carries worrisome mutations that may let it evade antibodies, scientists said. But it will take more research to know how it fares against vaccinated people.
Last week, scientists in South Africa and Botswana detected a new strain of the coronavirus, one with about 50 mutations across its genome. By contrast, other variants, such as delta, have less than 20 mutations.
“We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23,” the RIVM said. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited Southern Africa.”
The omicron variant has 50 mutations overall, with 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. The spike protein – which forms protruding knobs on the outside of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – helps the virus adhere to cells so that it can gain entry. It is also the protein that all three vaccines currently available in the U.S. use to induce protective antibodies. For comparison, the delta variant has nine mutations. The larger number of mutations in the omicron variant may mean that it could be more transmissible and/or better at evading immune protection – a prospect that is very concerning.
With cases of the omicron variant confirmed amid a major fourth wave of the pandemic, Germany is relying increasingly on the military as part of its response.
Reports of mostly mild illness from Covid-19 infections caused by omicron need to be interpreted with caution because they may not reflect the new variant’s severity across a broad range of people. Fatigue, head and body aches and occasional sore throats and coughs are among the typical symptoms experienced by omicron patients, according to Angelique Coetzee, the doctor in South Africa whose observations helped scientists identify the worrisome strain. The manifestations contrast with the rapid heartbeat, low blood-oxygen levels and a loss of smell and taste often seen in Covid patients sickened by the delta variant, she said.
During a press briefing last week, Tulio de Oliveira, PhD, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation in South Africa, said that test positivity rates in the Tshwane region (which is in Gauteng province) jumped from 1% to over 30% in the last 3 weeks alone, and almost all recent samples from the province have been the Omicron variant. Experts cautioned that the spike could be due to the “founder effect,” wherein a single case in an area of low prevalence is responsible for thousands of cases there. It’s not yet clear whether that’s what happened in South Africa, and a better answer is expected in the next few weeks.
Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous district, has been hit by several waves of Covid-19. Cases are now rising again as the omicron variant emerges. NBC News’ Richard Engel speaks with Dr. Richard Lessells, one of the first scientists to study the variant’s genetics, about its rapid spread.
Since May the World Health Organization has been using letters of the Greek alphabet to name coronavirus variants. Delta was the most dominant one, followed by eight others — including Epsilon, Iota and Lambda — that so far have mostly fizzled out. So after a new variant with the scientific name of B.1.1.529 was discovered last week in South Africa, observers might have expected WHO to name it after the next Greek letter on the list: Nu. But the health agency skipped Nu, along with the letter after that — Xi — and instead went straight to Omicron — the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet.
While the CDC initially recommended COVID-19 booster shots for a limited swath of Americans, last week they updated their guidance to allow all adults 18 and up to receive a booster.
China has pledged to donate 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to Africa as the world grapples with the unequal distribution of the shots between rich and poor countries
With the new omicron strain fueling fear around the globe that the coronavirus is regaining momentum, makers of the world’s most successful vaccines are investigating whether they need to tweak their shots. Over the last few days, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca revealed plans to address the threat posed by omicron, which emerged in South Africa and recently was detected in Australia, Israel, Hong Kong and parts of Europe. On Friday, the World Health Organization classified omicron as a “variant of concern.”
Official Reporting for November 30, 2021
World Health Organization
Weekly Epi Update November 23rd (latest release)
New Cases: 373,438
Confirmed Cases: 260,867,011
Confirmed Cases: 262,440,676
Total cases: 48,160,971 (+31,077 New Cases)
Total deaths: 776,703 (+104 New Deaths)
Science and Tech
An FDA advisory committee is meeting Tuesday to consider whether to recommend a new antiviral pill for the COVID-19 treatment toolkit. Take-at-home pills could be a game changer for keeping COVID-19 in check, and helping people recover from early stages of the disease.
Companies including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Abbott, Qiagen, Cue Health and Co-Diagnostics have stated that their PCR tests currently on the market for COVID-19 are not affected by the new strain. Meanwhile, test maker Eurofins has outlined plans to release new kits that specifically target the omicron variant.
Psychological and Sociological Impact
Parents know that winter is the season of sickness. Your kid will have approximately infinite colds. You, too, will have approximately infinite colds. Last winter, COVID precautions kept sickness at bay. But this year, school is in session, day-care colds are spreading fast, and the only cohort of people in America not yet eligible for COVID vaccination is our youngest children.
Assessment of Cognitive Function in Patients After COVID-19 Infection – JAMA
COVID-19 and diabetes in Africa: a lethal combination – Lancet
Study examines presence of SARS-CoV-2 in tears – Optometry Today
Misinformation, Disinformation, and Conspiracy Theories
A new coronavirus variant revived old conspiracy theories this week as widely shared social media posts falsely claimed the omicron variant was nothing but a cover-up for darker agendas.
Coping with COVID