Heavily mutated coronavirus variant puts scientists on alert
After more than twenty months of being on COVID high alert, we are craving the space to exhale. But, there is no time or room for such luxury. It is frightening that just as we see the Delta variant waning here comes B.1.1.529, another variant that seems to be much more virulent and dangerous. The World Health Organization (WHO) identified this emerging variant with the name Omicron, the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet (Ο, ο). Scientists are on high alert and we are learning more about this newly identified variant in real-time. There are reasons to be very concerned because it has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that could impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.
COVID fatigue is running high, but the virus is not impacted by our deep desire to put these last twenty months in our rear-view mirror. As I marveled at the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day, all I could think of was that New York City was having a super spreader event. It is where my mind immediately goes whenever I see large gatherings. I am fearful that we have to be on high alert for many more months/years to come.
The world is a very small place, and a mutation of the COVID-19 happening across the globe in South Africa can easily impact us. Will we ever learn that the butterfly effect is real? I wrote this blog post exactly one year ago, at that time deaths in the US were 250,000 and the Delta variant was just making itself known:
The Relentless School Nurse: The Butterfly Effect & Public Health Messaging.
An emergency meeting held the WHO Friday, November 26th, to discuss the new variant and determined it met the status as a “variant of concern (VOC).” It is notable that the VOC was first reported to the WHO on November 24, 2021. Here is the official statement from the meeting:
Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern
A SARS-CoV-2 VOC is a SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:
- increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; OR
- increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; OR
- decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics