(RxWiki News) There's a new variant of COVID-19, and it's sparking concern among health officials and the public around the world.
Here's what you need to know about the Omicron variant.
What Is the Omicron Variant?
The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) of COVID-19 is the latest of several variants that have popped up in infected people and begun to spread. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron as a "variant of concern" because of the combination of mutations this variant has.
Virus mutations are normal over time, but sometimes, the changes allow viruses to spread more quickly or make people sicker. That is precisely what health officials are concerned about with the Omicron variant.
How Far Has the Omicron Variant Spread?
After it was first detected in South Africa in mid-November, the Omicron variant began to spread quickly across the world. As of the time of this writing, the variant had been detected in 34 countries, including the United States.
Many health officials believe it is likely that this variant will reach most parts of the world.
Why Are Health Officials Concerned About Omicron?
All cases of COVID-19 are concerning because every variant of the virus can cause severe illness or even be fatal. However, certain variants appear to be more likely to spread quickly or make people sicker. For Omicron, health officials are concerned because the mutations of this particular variant may make the virus better able to bypass immunity from vaccines or past infections.
However, health officials note that it is still too early to tell how this variant will behave and affect the people it infects. Researchers around the world are working to better understand the Omicron variant and the impact it will have.
Do COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against Variants Like Omicron?
The currently approved COVID-19 vaccines were developed to prevent the versions of COVID-19 that were circulating at the time. So, what happens when there are new versions of the virus?
This is a question that health officials are continually studying as more COVID-19 variants emerge, but there is good news so far. As of the time of publication, the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the United States appeared to protect against the variants that were circulating.
It is still too early to tell for Omicron specifically, but vaccines are still being recommended as the best course of action for prevention.