Q. What is Omicron?
On 26 November 2021, World Health Organization (WHO) designated SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has few mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.1
Q. What makes Omicron a variant of concern?
Omicron has shown a very large number of mutations, especially more than 30 on the viral spike protein, which is the key target of the immune response. Due to the several mutations in Omicron, which earlier individually have been associated with increased infectivity and/or immune evasion, and the sudden rise in the number of positive cases in South Africa, World Health Organization has declared Omicron as a Variant of Concern.2
Q. What are the currently used diagnostics methods to detect Omicron?
The most accepted and commonly used method of diagnostic for the SARS-CoV- 2 Variant is the RT-PCR method. This method detects specific genes in the virus, such as Spike (S), Enveloped (E) and Nucleocapsid (N), etc. to confirm the presence of the virus. Moreover, in the case of Omicron, as the S gene is heavily mutated, some of the primers may lead to results indicating the absence of the S gene (called S gene drop out). This S gene drop out along with the detection of other viral genes could be used as a diagnostic feature of Omicron. However, for final confirmation of the omicron variant genomic sequencing is needed. 2
Q. Is the Omicron variant more severe than other COVID-19 variants?
Omicron appears to be less severe as early findings suggest a reduced risk of hospitalization in comparison with the Delta variant. But it must not be misunderstood as mild. It’s very crucial that we don’t get ahead of ourselves in terms of judging the severity and impact of Omicron. Increased transmission is expected to lead to more hospitalizations. That is directly proportional to the increased burden on frontline workers and healthcare systems.
All variants of COVID-19 can cause illness and fatalities, particularly the Delta variant that is still prevalent worldwide, which is why preventing the spread of the virus and reducing your risk of exposure to the virus is the only key.3
Q. “As Omicron is less severe, we will see fewer hospitalizations and our health systems will be able to cope.” Is it true?
Omicron did pose a high risk to our health systems. The overall risk related to Omicron is still very high for multiple reasons. Even if an Omicron infection is less severe compared to Delta, the rapid increase in cases was expected that will result in an increase in hospitalizations, again putting pressure on health care systems for treating patients with both omicron and COVID-19. 3
Q. Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Omicron variant too?
Q. Does Vaccine work against Omicron?
Researchers are still looking into the impact the Omicron variant has on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Information is still limited, moreover WHO reports that till now it appears that the currently available vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease and death.
Moreover, vaccination is expected to provide important protection against severe disease and death caused by Omicron, as it does with the other variants. Vaccination prompts the body’s immune response to the virus, which not only protects us from the variants currently in circulation – including Omicron – but is also likely to give protection from severe disease due to future mutations of COVID-19. 3
Q. Unvaccinated people will not become severely ill from Omicron. Is it a myth or a fact?
Unvaccinated people are at most risk from Omicron. It’s not wise to be ignorant of Omicron. The sheer volume of new COVID-19 infections is already leading to more hospitalizations in countries where Omicron has become the dominant variant, with most of those who require hospital treatment being unvaccinated people. Where measures to interrupt COVID-19 transmission are absent, the Omicron variant will spread with unprecedented speed, and just like in the Delta wave, the unvaccinated will be hit hardest. Our top recommendation continues to be: Take the vaccination when it’s your turn, including a booster dose if offered.4
Q. Omicron is just like a common cold. Right?
Fact: Omicron is much more dangerous than a common cold. We have seen that people infected with the Omicron variant are being hospitalized and some people have already died because of it. It is also expected that people who have been infected from Omicron and recover are also at risk of developing so-called Long COVID conditions.5
Q. Does previous infection provide immunity from Omicron?
Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron. If you have had COVID-19 previously, you should still get vaccinated, as reinfection from Omicron is still possible. Getting fully vaccinated, whether you have/ had COVID-19 or not, is important to protect yourself and others.5
Q. Is it a Myth that Boosters are ineffective against severe disease from Omicron?
Research suggests that the Booster dose is effective at increasing protection against severe disease from Omicron and all other COVID-19 variants. The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, as with many other vaccines, like influenza, wanes over time, so if you are offered a booster dose, it is always recommended to take it.5,6
Q. Face masks are useless against Omicron as the gaps in them are larger than the virus. True or false.
Based on the evidence, all preventive measures that are used against the Delta variant continue to be effective against Omicron. In addition to vaccination, all other preventive measures – wearing a mask; sanitizing hands; maintaining physical distancing; avoiding closed, confined, or crowded spaces, and ensuring good ventilation are required to protect yourself and others from Omicron or other COVID-19 variants.6
Q. With Omicron being less severe, are we near the end of the pandemic?
Unfortunately, the end of the pandemic is not yet in sight. It is crucial to understand that we still require all preventive measures to stem the wave of infection. Regardless of where you live, or your age, you still need to get vaccinated when it’s your turn, with a complete course and booster dose if offered, and continue to take all the other preventive measures, both to protect yourself and others.
Additionally, misinformation always fuels mistrust. This puts your health & life at risk. Moreover, the undermining of trust in science, institutions, and health systems does hinder the response to the pandemic. Therefore, it is always recommended to consult a healthcare professional for an authentic source and information.6
Q. What are the signs and symptoms of Omicron?
Individuals with Omicron, COVID-19 and all other variants have had a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. The below-mentioned symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
The list of all possible symptoms is infinite. Information is still limited.
Q. Do current COVID-19 tests also detect the Omicron variant?
The widely used RT- PCR and antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests continue to detect infection of COVID-19, including Omicron.
Q. Are children more likely to have the Omicron variant? True/ False.
Unfortunately, information is still limited. Research is ongoing into Omicron’s transmissibility.
Q. How can I protect myself and my family against the Omicron variant?
The most important thing you can do is reduce your risk of exposure to the virus. To protect yourself and your loved ones, it is important to embed preventive measures. Make sure, you are following the below-mentioned measures: -
Moreover, when it’s your turn, get vaccinated. Kindly note that WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
Q. How can I talk to my family about the Omicron and other COVID-19 variants?
Nowadays, news about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant is flooding our daily lives. And it is natural to be curious, young adults in your family or your spouse might have a lot of questions about them. Following are some tips to keep in mind that will help you to explain to your family about the Omicron and other COVID-19 variants: -
DON’T LET YOUR GUARD DOWN. BEWARE OF OMICRON.
The most accepted and commonly used method of diagnosis for the SARS-CoV- 2 is the RT-PCR method. This method detects specific genes in the virus, such as Spike (S), Enveloped (E) and Nucleocapsid (N), etc., to confirm the presence of the virus. Moreover, in the case of Omicron, as the S gene is heavily mutated, some of the primers may lead to results indicating the absence of the S gene (called S gene drop out). This S gene drop out along with the detection of other viral genes could be used as a diagnostic feature of Omicron. However, for final confirmation of the omicron variant genomic sequencing is needed.
Publisher’s name- Dr. Dangs Lab
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for a qualified medical opinion.