Omicron Variant

Omicron Variant Update:

Two of the three monoclonal antibodies FDA-authorized for COVID-19 in the United States, REGEN-COV and bam/ete, are ineffective against the Omicron variant. As such, new shipments of REGEN-COV and bam/ete to Kentucky have ended as of January 3, 2022. The third FDA-authorized monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab, is available nationwide in only very limited quantities. Unless sotrovimab supplies increase and/or new monoclonal antibodies effective against the Omicron variant are released, supplies in Kentucky will be extremely limited and many treatment locations will not have monoclonal antibodies to offer at their sites. We urge all eligible persons 5 and older to get vaccinated and/or boosted with a Moderna or Pfizer mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to prevent serious and/or life-threatening COVID-19 disease.

What Are COVID-19 Variants?

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Mutated forms of this virus have begun appearing in various parts of the world. The mutated forms are called variants. Mutated forms of the virus are slightly different than the original strains. These differences are often inconsequential, but, in a few cases, they can pose serious new health threats to human populations.

What Is the Omicron Variant of COVID-19?

The Omicron variant – officially B.1.1.529 – is one of the mutated forms of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has categorized Omicron as a “variant of concern,” meaning that there is reason to suspect that it may pose a new and somewhat different health threat to humans. It appears to be more contagious than the original virus, which is one of the criteria for designating variants of concern. The extent of the health risk represented by Omicron is not yet fully understood.

How Did the Omicron Variant Originate?

Like all variants, Omicron is the result of mutations during reproduction. Viruses are incapable of reproducing themselves; instead, they invade cells and highjack the cell’s infrastructure and energy sources to copy themselves. When this happens, errors sometime occur in the replication of a virus’ genetic structure. These changes, many of which are insignificant, define a virus as mutated. Depending on the environment in which the virus is living, mutations may increase, decrease, or have no measurable impact on its likelihood of survival.

Where Was the Omicron Variant First Detected?

Omicron was first detected in Botswana on November 11 and in South Africa on November 14, 2021.

Has the Omicron Variant Reached the United States?

Yes. The first recorded case of Omicron-variant COVID-19 occurred in the U.S. on December 1, 2021.  

What Are the Symptoms of the Omicron Variant?

Omicron symptoms appear to be similar to other forms of COVID-19. Infected persons experience:

  • coughing
  • headaches
  • fevers
  • sore throat
  • fatigue

The loss of taste and smell, common to the original virus, seems less prevalent with Omicron.

How Common Is the Omicron Variant?

The Omicron variant was only recently identified in the U.S. as of December 2021. The actual number of Omicron cases is relatively small though likely to increase with time. According to the CDC, the Delta variant remains the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States.

Is the Omicron Variant a Source of Concern?

Yes. Omicron is one of six SARS-CoV-2 variants that have been categorized as variants of concern. The rapid spread of Omicron in the African nations in which it was first identified suggests that it might be highly infectious. Its ultimate impact on public health is still being determined.

Is the Omicron Variant More Contagious Than Other Forms of the Virus?

Early evidence indicates that it might be. The rapid rise of Omicron cases in South Africa points to that possibility. Whether Omicron is more infectious than Delta, which also spreads quickly, has yet to be determined by medical researchers.  

Is the Omicron Variant a Greater Health Risk Than Other Forms of the Virus?

he potential impact on health of the Omicron variant is currently under investigation. Some early studies suggest that Omicron results in a milder form of COVID-19, with fewer hospitalizations and lower rates of mortality, though this has yet to be verified by more extensive research.

Is Current Testing for COVID-19 Effective at Identifying the Omicron Variant?

Yes. The most common form of testing, the PCR or nasal-swab test, has been found effective at identifying the Omicron variant.

Are the Currently Available Vaccines Effective Against the Omicron Variant?

The recent emergence of Omicron means that scientists are still in the process of evaluating vaccine effectiveness against the variant. There is reason to believe that the vaccines will retain their viability against Omicron, in part because of considerable genetic overlap between the Omicron and Delta variants. Breakthrough infections of vaccinated persons are possible, but the vaccines appear to protect against the most serious forms of infection, which means that among those individuals who do get ill, they avoid the worst possible outcomes (including death).

What Is Medical Science Doing About the Omicron Variant?

Medical organizations and public-health bodies around the world are currently focused on understanding, treating, and preventing new outbreaks of COVID-19 based on mutated forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This focus will ultimately result in new strategies of containment and control, possibly including modified vaccines or vaccine strategies, revised public-health policies, and continuing education of vulnerable populations. 

Are Unvaccinated Persons at Risk?

Yes. Unvaccinated persons are thought to be at greater risk than fully vaccinated persons with regard to Omicron and the other SARS-CoV-2 variants.

How Do I Protect Myself and My Family from Omicron-variant COVID-19?

You can protect yourself and your loved ones from Omicron and the other new variants by taking the same steps public-health organizations developed for the original outbreak of COVID-19:

  • Wear masks or other protective facial coverings
  • Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from other people
  • Avoid crowds, especially in confined spaces
  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly
  • Get vaccinated with one of three vaccines currently approved for use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You can click hereto schedule your vaccine if you reside in Kentucky and here, if you reside in Indiana.