It has been 11 days since the World Health Organization declared the most recent mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to be a worrisome variant and named it Omicron. Since then, researchers have worked hard to discover its characteristics and what kind of threat it poses to the world.
His work is still in the preliminary stages and will change and evolve in the days and weeks to come. There is at least 25 Omicron studies planned in Britain alone that aim to learn more about their risk of home transmission, risk of symptomatic reinfection of the population, and predictors of being an Omicron case.
However, clues are already emerging suggesting that Omicron could be “a problem with a capital T.”
MORE: Omicron: Here’s What We Know So Far About The Latest Variation Of Concern
Here are the latest FAQs from Vaxx Populi on Omicron:
How was Omicron discovered and why are researchers concerned?
All those general questions and answers are found in the first Vaxx Populi FAQs November 29. Here it is the link.
I keep hearing reports that Omicron may be smoother than Delta. That’s right?
We do not know.
Right now, many of those receiving Omicron in South Africa are young, and that age cohort is you are expected to have milder symptoms than those, say, 70 years or older. Therefore, it is not clear if the reports of milder symptoms are due to who is suffering from them now or if it really is milder for all age groups.
On Saturday December 4, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) published data from the epicenter of your outbreak, Tshwane district of Gauteng province, on the initial characteristics of those admitted to the hospital with Omicron. Cases are increasing exponentially, from less than 1,000 on November 29 to more than 3,000 on December 3. And between November 14 and 29, some 166 people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, which represents 25 percent of all public and private hospital admission.
While emphasizing that the data only captures the beginning of the outbreak, SAMRC revealed two main findings: that most COVID patients are not dependent on oxygen, as in previous waves, and most found they had COVID only after being admitted to the hospital for other health reasons.
“A snapshot of 42 patients in the ward on December 2, 2021 reveals that 29 (70%) are not dependent on oxygen. These patients are being well saturated with ambient air and do not present any respiratory symptoms, ”the SAMRC report indicated. Furthermore, there was only one person in the ICU and four needed intensive care.
What all the experts are warning is that there is no way to extrapolate what could happen based on such preliminary data from a district in South Africa, which has a vaccination rate less than half that of Canada. It could mean that those who are vaccinated have decent protection against Omicron, or there could be other factors at play.
Is Omicron spreading fast?
As of Dec. 5, there are 905 confirmed cases of Omicron and nearly 50,000 suspected cases worldwide, according to a Newsnodes.com crawler. A week earlier, there were 184 confirmed cases and 1,305 probable.
Trevor Bedford, a scientist studying the evolution of viruses at Fred Hutch in Seattle, detailed Omicron’s origins and path in a long twitter thread: “Omicron appears to have emerged around October 1 and it has taken eight weeks of exponential growth to ‘suddenly’ have considerable impacts on the Gauteng case count and hospitalizations. This ‘sudden’ is the nature of exponential growth. ”
The variant has spread throughout the world, causing local outbreaks. “As a broad analogy, if needed [roughly] 8 weeks for Omicron to grow from the initial spark to become a local epidemic in South Africa, I would expect secondary epidemics to start manifesting in about 8 weeks from today. ” he affirmed.
Now, more and more, public health authorities are reporting these types of secondary outbreaks. In Norway, more than a dozen people who contracted COVID-19 at a Christmas party on November 26 have the Omicron variant even though they were all fully vaccinated and tested prior to the event. Cases have been mild to date, with no hospitalizations, CNN reports. Meanwhile, after a party of 150 high school students in Denmark, at least 50 are now Positive omicron.
In Britain, “one in 200 people who tested positive in London last week probably had Omicron”, Theo Sanderson explained, Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the Francis Crick Institute, London, after reviewing the latest technical report on variants from the UK Health Safety Agency (formerly Public Health England), published on 3 December.
December 2, Toronto Public Health declared an outbreak at the Toronto East Detention Center after tests revealed that a correctional officer who had contracted COVID had Omicron and four inmates had subsequently tested positive, although the strain of their viruses had not been determined.
If Omicron turns out to be smoother than Delta but much more transmissible, is that better or worse than what we’re experiencing with Delta?
It will probably be worse.
Early models using data from South Africa indicate that Omicron is significantly outperforming Delta, with an effective reproduction value (Rt) greater than three. To put that in context, Canada’s current Rt is 1.1, as of Dec 3, according to the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases in Great Britain. And Delta is the dominant variant here.
So if Omicron’s reproduction rate is much higher than Delta’s, then the math means more hospitalizations and more deaths. In a wide distribution graphic and social media thread since December 2020, Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in Great Britain show the relationship between transmissibility and death.
– Gerald Evans (@skepticalIDdoc) December 5, 2021
The key message, Chef explained, is that “an increase in something that grows exponentially (that is, transmission) can have much more effect than the same proportional increase in something that only scales a result (that is, gravity)”.
What about the effectiveness of our vaccines?
Experts believe they still offer protection against Omicron, but the question is how much protection and how well it will work to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
That Gauteng province SAMRC report showed that of 38 adults hospitalized with COVID, 24 patients were not vaccinated, six were vaccinated while the status of the remaining eight was unknown.
What about protecting natural immunity from already having COVID-19?
In South Africa, it is estimated that around 80 percent of the population has had COVID-19, yet there are already early indications that such natural immunity may not be enough when it comes to fighting Omicron.
On December 2, a prepress study by South African researchers was published in medRxiv that compared re-infection incidents after the introduction of Beta, Delta and now Omicron to the nation. His conclusion at this very early stage of the research: “Population-level evidence suggests that the Omicron variant is associated with a substantial ability to evade immunity from a previous infection. In contrast, there is no epidemiological evidence in the entire population of immune escape associated with Beta or Delta variants ”.
What can I do here in Canada?
Get vaccinated, whether it’s your first, second, or third injection, and get it as soon as you’re eligible.
On December 3, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) Third “highly recommended” injections of a COVID mRNA vaccine within six months of a second injection to:
- People in long-term care homes and other congregated settings
- People over 50 years old
- Adults in indigenous communities
- Frontline Health–care workers
- Those who only received viral vector vaccines (AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson / Janssen) for their first two vaccinations.
For adults ages 18 to 49, the NACI simply “recommends” that they receive a third injection within six months of the second dose, but cautions that those doses are “with consideration of individual and jurisdictional risks.”
The provinces are already divided between which NACI path to follow: Alberta has opened third vaccine eligibility for all adults 18 years of age and older. December 13 everyone in Ontario 50 and older people can begin to book appointments for the third injection.
As with the first and second injections, it will take time for the third injections to be fully effective, so vaccinating as many people as possible as soon as possible is crucial to building a barrier against Omicron.