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From vaccine effectiveness to transmissibility: What we know about the omicron variant of COVID-19


The World Health Organization classified \
Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is going full speed ahead to contain the latest variant, first identified in southern Africa but popping up around the globe. The World Health Organization n amed the new version of the virus “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible variant of concern, though its actual risks are not yet understood. Early evidence suggests that it poses an increased risk that people who have already had COVID-19 could catch it again, the WHO said. It could take weeks to know whether current vaccines remain effective against it. Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants, including the beta and delta variants, but they do not know whether these genetic changes actually make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease. Experts are hopeful that vaccines will be at least somewhat effective at preventing serious illness and death — and continue to encourage people to get inoculated. Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London said it was “extremely unlikely” that current vaccines wouldn’t work, noting they are effective against numerous other variants. More on the omicron variant: The omicron variant has sparked new travel restrictions. Are more COVID rules ahead? But as the virus continue to spread, countries across the globe are imposing restrictions or bans on travelers from several countries and re-imposing measures such as mask mandates that some hoped were a thing of the past. Scientists are concerned because the new variant appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus’ spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads among people. Sharon Peacock, who has led genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said the data so far suggest the new variant has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility,” but said that “the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.

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