Not Your Ordinary Variant

It’s still early days for Omicron, but the facts on the ground are daunting: It’s already spread to 77 countries and is soon to become the dominant variant in Denmark, the UK, and elsewhere.
All signs point to a dangerous several months ahead.

  • Don’t say mild: It’s way too early to conclude that Omicron is a mild variant, Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage told Science. It’s only been spreading for a couple months—and young people made up many of the early cases in South Africa.
  • What to watch: About 10% of Omicron genomes sequenced so far have an additional spike protein mutation called 346K, which may make it even better at slipping past the immune response.
  • Killer defense: Omicron may be overpowering antibodies, but the killer T cells—primed by vaccination or previous infection—may help forestall the most severe illness, Katherine J. Wu writes in The Atlantic.
  • “Triple whammy”: A brutal Omicron wave will hit the US as early as January, CDC officials and others said yesterday, per The Washington Post. The onslaught will hit battered health systems already struggling against Delta in many places. Omicron on top of Delta, with a potentially bad flu season, makes for a “triple whammy,” according to 1 health official.
  • Booster?: Some experts do not support the idea of Omicron-targeting booster shots, while others say they should be developed now—even though approvals would take months (and likely come too late to stave off the coming wave).

Scientists’ questions, per Science:

  • How effective are vaccines—2 doses and 3—against Omicron?
  • How easily can Omicron spread in households and other locales?
  • Why is it outpacing Delta—because it’s just more transmissible or because it’s better at evading people’s immune response?

Portugal has a high vaccination rate but it isn't taking chances with omicron –NPR
CDC data indicate Omicron is starting to eat into Delta’s U.S. dominance –STAT
Will we always need Covid-19 boosters? Experts have theories – STAT

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