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What patients may ask about the COVID-19 Omicron variant

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What patients may ask about the COVID-19 Omicron variant

As the United States continues its struggle with the dangerous variant of the COVID-19 Delta, a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 has emerged: Omicron. While much remains unknown about the transmissibility and severity of the new variant — and how effective the currently approved and authorized COVID-19 vaccines are in protecting people against it — doctors, scientists, and public health officials are working hard to better understand the Omicron variant.

While there are still many unknowns, here are some questions patients may have about the emerging COVID-19 variant Omicron.

B.1.1.529 was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa, and B.1.1.529 was classified as a variant of concern and named Omicron on 24 November. This has prompted the United States and many other countries to restrict travel to and from South Africa. The United States was due to lift travel restrictions on December 31.

The first US case of the Omicron variant was identified in an individual in California. This person, who was fully vaccinated, traveled from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 on November 29. The person was reported to have a mild illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have classified Omicron as a “variable of concern.”

State and local public health officials continue to work with the CDC to monitor the spread of Omicron. As of December 20, the Omicron variant has been detected in most states and territories and is rapidly increasing the proportion of cases of COVID-19 it causes, the CDC said.

In recent weeks, COVID-19 infections in South Africa have seen a sharp increase, coinciding with the discovery of the Omicron variant. By the deadline for this article, Omicron accounted for nearly 60% of cases in the United States, according to data from the CDC.

What makes this variable worrisome, the World Health Organization says, is the number of mutations that may have an effect on how easily an omicron spreads or the severity of the disease it causes. There is also a potential decrease in both the efficacy of monoclonal antibody treatments and in neutralization by post-vaccination serum, says the CDC.

Learn more from the CDC about what you need to know about variables.

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The Omicron variant is still new, but the World Health Organization has noted that the COVID-19 variant spreads more easily from person to person. It is possible that with more than 30 mutations in Omicron, it helps the variant spread more easily while allowing it to evade protective immunity caused by vaccines or natural immunity through previous infections.

In fact, on December 14, the World Health Organization noted that the Omicron variant is spreading faster than any previously discovered strain of SARS-CoV-2. But while the COVID-19 Omicron variant is more contagious, it’s not entirely clear if the strain causes milder or more severe disease than others.

Again, it is not yet clear whether infection from the COVID-19 Omicron variant causes more serious illness. But preliminary data indicates that hospitalization rates in South Africa are increasing.

Preliminary studies of the Omicron variant suggest that infections may be less severe than those that occurred in Delta. But, with Omicron, the virus is spreading more quickly, which is still a cause for concern. More data is needed to understand whether omicron infections—particularly recurrent infections and breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people—cause more serious illness or death than infections with other variants, says the CDC.

Early evidence suggests that for those fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Omicron appears to result in mild disease. This can resemble the common cold, which is another form of the coronavirus. These symptoms can include sore throat, headache, cough, fatigue, congestion, and runny nose.

Initial reports of infection, according to the World Health Organization, were among college students who tended to have milder symptoms. Understanding the true level of severity of the Omicron variant may take several weeks.

During the research, preliminary evidence suggests that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with the COVID-19 Omicron variant. This means that people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered can become infected again more easily with Omicron, according to the World Health Organization. More information will be available in the coming weeks.

Current COVID-19 vaccines remain the best line of defense to protect against severe disease, hospitalization and death. But it is important to note that superinfection in fully vaccinated people is more likely to occur with Omicron. With other variants, such as delta, vaccines have remained effective, further emphasizing the importance of vaccination and boosters.

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Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 as it moves slowly and reduces the potential for new variants to emerge. The CDC and WHO continue to work to better understand the potential impact of the Omicron variant on current countermeasures. This analysis of the effectiveness of the Omicron variant vaccine includes the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson.

“The emergence of the Omicron variant also underscores the importance of vaccination, booster, and prevention efforts to protect against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walinsky, MD, MPH. “Early data from South Africa indicates increased transmission of the Omicron variant, and scientists in states The United States and around the world are urgently examining the effectiveness of the vaccine for this type.”

The CDC recommends that everyone 5 years of age or older get a full vaccination to protect against COVID-19. Everyone 18 years of age or older should also get a booster dose.

It is imperative that everyone who has not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is vaccinated. And those who are fully vaccinated and who qualify should receive a booster dose to further protect against variants of COVID-19.

“I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate children and adolescents in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious diseases,” Dr. Walinsky said. “I also want to encourage people to get tested for COVID-19 if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify Omicron quickly.”

Find out what doctors wish patients knew about boosters for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Due to the extent of Omicron’s infection, some experts recommend upgrading from a cloth mask to an N95 or similar high-filtration respirator in public indoor spaces. These masks are made of a material with an electrostatic charge, which can help prevent inhaling virus particles.

At least, though, consider double masking. This means wearing a cloth mask over the surgical mask for a tighter fit. A mask fitting agent can also help improve the fit of a person’s mask for better protection against omicron. While a double mask or mask texture agent may not provide as much protection as N95, they are a huge improvement over a cloth mask alone.

The AMA strongly supports the vaccination of all eligible people to protect against the worst outcomes of COVID-19. Among other things, the AMA supports COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers and the appropriate intake of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

In addition, the AMA has developed frequently asked questions documents on COVID-19 vaccination that cover safety, allocation, distribution, management, and more. There are two types of FAQ, one designed to answer patients’ questions (PDF) and the other to answer doctors’ questions about the COVID-19 vaccine (PDF).

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