12/2/2021 8:06:16 PM
Get Ready, Do Not Panic, Omicron Might Knock Your Door Too!
Just as soon as the international population thought it has escaped the nightmare of the quarantine and COVID-19 pandemic with the increased number of vaccination campaigns and the increase in the overall health awareness, a new mutant was uncovered carrying many speculations.
Until now we have learned about five main mutants which are the genetic variants of COVID-19. In the past two weeks, the world has been re-discussing the emergent precautions that should be taken into consideration. It is expected until now that this variant has emerged from the fusion of HIV or any other immunodeficiency virus with the COVID-19 virus.
Socially speaking, panicking has availed especially that it is not known very well whether vaccines can conquer this mutant. It is also unknown if this mutant can escape the antibodies produced by the vaccine previously assigned to decrease the severity of transmission and symptoms of COVID-19 (1).
Infections have started to arise in several countries in South Africa, Israel, the UK, and other countries. Some countries have already started to take the precautions and close the airports in response to their protective policy for their population. It is very unknown until now whether this mutant will cause another pandemic. It is also unknown whether the governmental policies internationally will take the decision this time to depend on herd immunity having successfully made the vaccine available.
So what are we speaking about?
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behavior of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.
It was first reported in South Africa on 24 November 2021.
Many countries have experienced a rise or another peak in the frequency of the infection post Delta. This heightened the doubt of the presence of the variant. This peak was recorded for a third time for example in Africa.
What makes this variant concerning is the large number of mutations it carries. Now, the WHO has named the variant as Omicron. But where does this naming come from?
The naming comes after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. Of course, it was not a random choice. World Health Organization has released a naming system since May 2021 to help facilitate naming the variants and make it less confusing. This letter is derived from the Phoenician letter ayin (2).
But aside from the literal naming, currently too, the scientific endeavor should best manifest in the below steps as advised by the WHO (3):
1- Enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
2- Submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID.
3- Report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism.
4- Where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.
It is also very essential to investigate Omicron ability to escape the antibodies created by the vaccine. It is also expected that the nucleotide changes in the peptide of the variant show an increase of transmissibility but not fatality.
South Korea daily number of coronavirus infections has taken a new peak as well and for this reason, the authorities are halting quarantine exemptions for travelers in the aim of conquering the new variant. In California, on the other hand, the first case of infection with Omicron for a fully vaccinated person was recorded(4).
It is also maybe of hope to mention that the drug manufacturer of the treatment against COVID-19 (sotrovimab) GlaxoSmithKline has considered its drug against the new variant as “retaining activity” (4).
For now, and publicly, the same precautious measures should be taken. Keep your mask and social distancing and repetitively wash your hands as advised by the WHO. For sure, do not skip your vaccination date. It is certainly your very best way to guarantee the decrease of fatality rate and the severity of your symptoms individually and hence the hospitalization burden internationally (1).
By: Sara Makka
The UJA of Lebanon
1. Update on Omicron [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 2]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron
2. Knuth DE. Big Omicron and big Omega and big Theta. SIGACT News [Internet]. 1976 Apr [cited 2021 Dec 2];8(2):18–24. Available from: https://api.semanticscholar.org/CorpusID:5230246#id-name=S2CID
3. Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 2]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern
4. UK approves GSK drug to treat COVID: Live News | News | Al Jazeera [Internet]. [cited 2021 Dec 2]. Available from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/2/wrapup-1-first-omicron-case-in-u-s-adds-to-global-alarm-over-virus-variant