What We Know About Omicron

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Just as COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant began decreasing, a new variant – called Omicron – has emerged on the scene. Because this variant is fairly new, there are more unknowns than knowns about it. As the number of cases rise, more about Omicron will be learned. Below is a compilation of information gathered from multiple health and scientific sources on what is known so far.

How is the Omicron variant different from Delta and other variants?

The COVID-19 virus, as is typical with most viruses, has mutated into several new variants, including Delta and Omicron. What makes Omicron different is that it is characterized by an unusually large number of mutations, compared to previous ones. This means it will likely spread more easily compared to previous COVID-19 variants.

What are symptoms of those infected with Omicron?

People infected with Omicron have mostly reported mild symptoms. They are not experiencing loss of taste or smell, as seen with other variants. Scientists warn symptom severity may differ based on age, medical conditions, and vaccination status.

Can Omicron be detected with a COVID-19 test?

Molecular and antigen tests are designed to broadly detect COVID-19 virus infections, rather than to check for the type of specific variants. Most nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT) and antigen tests have been shown to detect the Omicron variant. However, keep in mind that antigen tests are not as accurate as NAAT tests. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website lists the tests that do not detect Omicron. Those tests are not being used in Hawaiʻi.

Does COVID-19 vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection protect me from getting sick?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) expects that Omicron will be spread by both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, even among those who don’t have any symptoms. As Omicron is highly mutated, it is possible that protection from previous infections and vaccines may not be as effective. Breakthrough infections are expected.

Are there medications or other vaccines that can fight Omicron?

Pharmaceutical companies are currently working on vaccines specific to fighting serious infection from Omicron. Makers of COVID-19 antiviral pills are confident it will be effective against Omicron. Final approval for use of these drugs is pending.

What can I do in the meantime to reduce risk of getting severe infection from Omicron?

Preliminary results from studies suggests that people who have taken the COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be better protected against severe illness from Omicron than those who haven’t. This is supported by the CDC who states, “the recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.”

It is highly recommended that you discuss the pros and cons of vaccination with your doctor. At the same time, do everything you can to prevent or manage those medical conditions that can put you at risk for getting severe infection. In addition to correctly taking any medication prescribed by your doctor, following a plant-based diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, getting good sleep, and limiting alcohol will all help to prevent and manage disease and severe COVID-19 infection.

And wearing masks, social distancing when possible, and sanitizing your hands frequently all continue to help.