The World Health Organization said yesterday on Tuesday that the COVID-19 vaccines need to be “reworked” to make them more effective against Omicron as well as any future variants that appear. They stressed the need for vaccines to be better at preventing infection. They might have thought of this initially, since the vaccine was never claimed by the manufacturers to stop infection any way. It was claimed to decrease severity and death.
Although they have been saying the vaccines are still helping to decrease severity and death, they also say that we can’t expect the original vaccines to continue to be appropriate or sustainable and new vaccines need to be created based on Omicron and future variants.
In my opinion, we will eventually have a similar situation to infuenza where-by a new vaccine will be created yearly trying to hit the mark as well as they can. The idea that a vaccine can be made and used for a couple years as they have done, does not make sense.
Meanwhile, for both those who are not vaccinated as well as those vaccinated, keep your immune system tuned up to help you stay ahead of the game.
- Newly released studies on mice and hamsters shows Omicron causes less damage to the lungs compared to other variants.
- The federal governement finally admits that cloth masks are not much help.
- Danish Study shows Omicron is more able to evade immunizations than prior variants.
- The UK confirms the new variant has more breakthrough cases.
- Australia who has had some of the most strinent lock-downs and has over 90% of the population vaccinated is being overwhelmed with Omicron and they say they are now learning to live with COVID-19.
- For details on these updates, see this article where I give much more data.
On December 25th the total cases of COVID-19 in Oregon were 6,967 and 44% of these were breakthrough cases while 54% were non-immunized cases. On January 1st the cases had increased to 15, 239 and the breakthrough cases were back down to 31% where they usually are at. The rest of the 69% of cases were in the non-immunized. So far it seems the percentage of death rates are following along with other countries in the world who are ahead of us. Omicron continues to be more contagious but milder. In South Africa where the illness has already went through the population they have hope that Omicron has now infected enough people to allow them to live wtih COVID-19 like they do with other SARS viruses and Influenza.
New studies from the U.K. and South Africa show Omicron is very contagious but results in decreased symptoms compared to Delta.
In the study in the UK, There is a reduction of 20-25% in hospital attendance when using any attendance at hospital as the endpoint, and an even greater reduction in hospital attendance 40-45% when using hospitalisation lasting 1 + days or hospitalisations with the ECDS discharge field recorded as “admitted” as the endpoint.
A previous infection was shown to reduce the risk of any hospitalisation by approximately 50%, and the risk of a hospital stay of 1+ days by 61%. When looking at the vaccinated, the rates change depending on which vaccine was used and they also seperated them by ages to make it even more complicated, so if you want to see that you will need to go look at the actual data and tables here.
In the South African Study they found those with Omicron infection are 70% less likely to have severe disease when compared to Delta.
The study authors say their findings are specific to the U.K. and South Africa, where substantial portions of the population have some immune protection from past infection.
- Omicron spreads more rapidly in bronchi, but not in alveoli of inner lung.
- Omicron is quite resistant to vaccines and immunity of those previously infected.
- Omicron is also resistant to most of the monoclonal antibodies being used to treat COVID-19.
See the details below. As always, I supply links to the studies in case you want to read them yourself.
An Omicron study from Hong Kong says this variant spreads more rapidly in the bronchi, but much slower in the alveoli. Bronchi are airways or like highways into the lungs. The alveoli are the inner sanctum of the lung where exhcange of gases takes place between the outer world and our blood stream. Less infection in the alveoli would be a good thing. The researchers found that Omicron infects and multiplies 70 times faster than the Delta variant and original SARS-CoV-2 in the human bronchus, which may explain why Omicron may transmit faster between humans than previous variants. Their study also showed that the Omicron infection in the lung is significantly lower than the original SARS-CoV-2, which may be an indicator of lower disease severity.
The reports are that the vaccinated and the previously infected are both more likely to be infected with the new variant. However, we also continue to get reports that Omicron is milder than the previous variants.
A recent study found “markedly resistant to neutralization by serum not only from convalescent patients, but also from individuals vaccinated with one of the four widely used COVID-19 vaccines. Even serum from persons vaccinated and boosted with mRNA-based vaccines exhibited substantially diminished neutralizing activity against B.1.1.529. ” Additionally, this same study found monoclonal antibodies that have been squelching this illness in those who get it (if given in first few days) are also not working well any more. They found “that the activity of 18 of the 19 antibodies tested were either abolished or impaired, including ones currently authorized or approved for use in patients.” Their conclusion was that Omicron presents a serious threat to current vaccines and therapies.
A new preprint study looking at how the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech SarsCoV-2 vaccines will protect against the new Omicron variant of SarsCo-V2 was completed by Oxford University, where they tested blood samples from vaccinated individuals 28 days after their 2nd dose of either vaccine when the vaccine should be at its most potent. Scientists saw a substantial fall in neutralizing antibodies that fight COVID-19 off compared to the immune responses seen against the earlier variants. Neutralizing titers on sera from participants who had received AstraZeneca AZD1222 dropped to below the detectable threshold in all but one participant. Neutralizing titers on sera from participants who received Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 dropped 29.8 fold from a high in another variant of 1609 to the low in Omicron variant of 54, and one participant dropping below the detection threshold. Some of the vaccinated failed to neutralize the virus at all. The researchers point out that this decreased ability for the vaccines to be protective will lead to more break-through cases in the vaccinated, but they also point out that we do not have any evidence of increased potential for severe disease, hospitalization or death. They point out that it is not known if a third vaccine dose will help but they feel it might raise neutralizing titers to better levels against the new variant. Pfizer is claiming that a third dose of their
They also discussed the possible need to create multivalent vaccines that will multiple vaccines for different variants all in one innoculation to be given to individuals since Omicron is so genetically different than the prior variants.
South Africa and neighboring countries are having a large spike in COVID-19 cases, although they are not sure which variants are there but they are saying that both anecdotally and based on small studies the patients appear to be experiencing milder symptoms and illness than seen in previous waves of COVID-19. They also mentioned that many more paitents are younger adults and young children.
- Yesterday afternoon, 42 people in 19 states had tested positive for Omicron.
- According to the Associated Press, more than 75% had been vaccinated and 1/3 of them had booster shots. A third of these people had traveled internationally.
- As with other countries reporting this variant, these people were reported to have mild symptoms of cough, congestion and fatiuge as seen with the common flu.
- The world health organization has reported no deaths from the Omicron variant.
- If the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly and continues to be mild, we could be seeing the end of the pandemic.
- Meanwhile, Pfizer is telling people they need to get a 4th vaccine.
- Namibia has detected Omicron variant in 18 of 19 samples sequenced since Nov. 26th making it highly prevalent there.
- It is appearing so far that this strain is becoming the dominant variant in South Africa.
- As it spreads across the world the reports continue to be that it spreads quickly but may cause less severe disease. Cold like symptoms are being reported. However, how serious it is has not yet been determined, and we are still in a wait and see mode.
- A preprint study is reporting the possiblility that Omicron variant picked up genetic code from another coronavirus that causes the human cold. If so, this would explain the easy transmission and decreased symptoms being reported so far.
- Omicron is being reported more as it spreads around the word. It is now reported in 50 countries.
- In the USA the dominant form being reported is still 99% Delta, but Omicron has been detected in 17 states.
There are 20 countries which have now detected this variant. The USA is one of the new countries to have identified this variant in their midst.
There is currently a new surge of COVID-19 cases in South Africa while they dropped in all other subregions during the past week from the previous week. Epidemiologists and laboratory experts are being mobilized to boost genomic sequencing in Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. WHO has mobilized US$ 12 million to support critical response activities in countries across the region for the next three months.
This Is The Original Article written on December 1st, 2021 – Updates Are Above
There is more that we don’t know about Omicron (variant B.1.1.529) than is known and this is why people’s imaginations are going wild. There are both reasons to feel optimistic as well as worried. I am supplying you with actual data and then explaining to you why some scientists and practitioners are worried. This does not mean that their concerns will come true.
When Was It Noticed
Omicron appears to have been first noticed on November 9th 2021 in Botswana and the data on this variant uploaded to a central site on November 23rd.
It has quickly shown up all over the world. It has been reported in Germany, the UK, China, Australia, and Canada. Although there are no reportsof it in the USA, it is thought to most likely be here already. Update: A case was just reported after I posted this blog on 12/1/21.
How Well Can We Identify This Variant or Any Variant In The USA
The capacity to detect and track the variant or pick up other new variants is fairly poor in the USA due to how our public health system is set up. It appears we are currently gene sequencing one of every seven samples that test positive. This means variants are not picked up as quickly as could be. However, it might be possible for the PCR test to pick up this new Omicron variant and alert the lab to sequence certain samples. Dr. Daved Kessler, the chief sicence officer for the federal COVID-19 response has said there is a signature called an S gene target failure that some PCR tests can pick up and tests showing this can be prioritized for genetic sequencing, allowing the new variant to be found in more cases. Currently 56 public health labs are able to do this and others are being asked to use this test for the next two weeks.
UPDATE: The first Omicron case was identified in the USA after I posted this blog on 12/1/21 – the same day.
Why The Concern About Omicron
It has a number of mutations in the spike protein sequence. There are more mutations in the Omicron variant than seen with any others. The spike protein is the target of the vaccines, so there is concern the vaccines will not work well against it.
Omicron appears to be a closer relative to the Alpha variant than the more recent Delta variant. That has people confused as to how it popped up now when we thought there was only Delta variant around, and they are conjecturing various reasons for this, but the actual reason is not really known.
Vaccine companies who were planing on using the Delta variant as their target for making new vaccines are now in a situation where they have two different variants which are not so closely related to each other. This puts them in a situation where it is unknown what to do next.
Risk of Infection And Virulence
The World Health Orgnization said on November 30th that the preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant as compared to others. Indeed, reports have been that it may ciruclate quickly. However, reports also have been made that it appears to be a mild variant although no one is yet ready to claim this for sure.
Travel and Transmission
It appears to have already circulated before the flight bans went into effect. It appears it was already in Europe before they put in bans and before scientists in S. Africa reported it to the World Health Organization.
In Hong Kong they report having a traveler from South Africa who tested negative before his flight on November 11th, test positive while quarantining in Hong Kong on Noveber 13th. An individual across the hall from him also tested positive. Both were putting out a lot of viral particles.
In the Netherlands they had 539 people from South Africa with 61 of them testing positive, although, it is unknown what variant these people had at the time of this report as they had not yet been sequenced.
If You Have Travel Plans
An increasing number of countries have instituted travel bans or measures for anyone who has been to S. Africa or others areas this variant has shown up. The World Health Organization suggests the following to countries:
- “Measures may include screening of passengers prior to traveling and/or upon arrival, including via the use of SARS-CoV-2 testing or the application of quarantine to international travelers.”
- They have not been happy about the blanket travel bans on South Africa and have said “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. All countries should ensure that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other VOC.”
- “All travelers should be reminded to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status, including by using masks appropriately, respecting physical distancing, following good respiratory etiquette and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces. Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission.”
What About Fatality
In Africa where vaccination is extremely low Omicron was said to be mild. In Israel, where vaccination is very high, they also report no serious cases so far. However, since it is new, no one knows for sure. There is theory and conjecture about what could happen in the future with Omicron, but no one actually knows yet.
What The Future Holds
We will know much more in a couple weeks. The WHO has reminded countries that the current issue is Delta, which is the predominant strain and not Omicron. Indeed, in March and April of this year, a new variant called Mu appeared, but it faded away by September because it could not compete with the Delta variant. Will Omicron also fizzle out or will it take over Deltas spotlight? There is no way to know currently. Time will tell.
The Take Home
- The original cases in Africa made them think it is highly transmissible, but mild. In Israel the cases have also been mild so far.
- Omicron appears to be more similar to the Alpha variant than the Delta variant.
- The increased number of changes in the spike protein may make this variant more transmissible and make the vaccines less likely to be able to control it.
- If traveling this is likely to affect your travels at least for the next couple of weeks while people are unsure about this new variant.
As a side note: Being a glass half full type of person, I would like to point out that the CDC’s current figures today as I write this, show 146.6 million people are estimated to have already been infected with COVID-19 in the USA (this does not count all those who did not have symptoms, or did not seek help for other reasons, which means this number is much higher, and has been shown to be much higher by testing for antibodies). The current deaths are estimated to be 921,000. This means that even using the CDC figures, that leave out all the extra cases that did not get tested there is a 0 .63% chance of death according to the CDC. Why I tell you this, is to tell you if you have or get COVID-19, the current figures show a low rate of death. This being said, no one wants to get COVID-19 or the flu and everyone should continue to use hygienic measures to assure they do not get sick and if sick do not pass either COVID-19 or influenza onto others.
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