Update on Omicron – .

Update on Omicron – .

November 26, 2021, WHO has designated variant B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). This decision was based on evidence presented to TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that can impact its behavior, such as how easily it spreads or the severity of the disease it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known.
Current knowledge about Omicron

Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the results of these studies as they become available.

Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (for example, spreads more easily from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has increased in parts of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiological studies are underway to understand whether it is due to Omicron or other factors.

Severity of the disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggests that there is an increase in hospitalization rates in South Africa, but this may be due to the increase in the overall number of people infected, rather than a specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that the symptoms associated with Omicron are any different from those of other variants. The first reported infections were in college students – younger people who tend to have milder disease – but it will take days to weeks to understand the level of severity of the Omicron variant. All variants of COVID-19, including the globally dominant Delta variant, can cause serious illness or death, especially for the most vulnerable, and therefore prevention is always key.

Efficacy of a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection

Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of re-infection with Omicron (i.e. people who have previously had COVID-19 may be re-infected more easily with Omicron), compared to others variants of concern, but information is limited. More information on this will be available in the coming days and weeks.

Vaccine efficacy: WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines. Vaccines remain essential in reducing serious illness and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against serious illness and death.

Effectiveness of current tests: Widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have seen with other variants as well. Studies are underway to determine if there is an impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.

Effectiveness of current treatments: Corticosteroids and IL6 receptor blockers will continue to be effective in the management of patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be evaluated to see if they are still as effective given the changes made to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.

Ongoing studies

Currently, WHO is coordinating with a large number of researchers around the world to better understand Omicron. Studies currently underway or underway include evaluations of transmissibility, severity of infection (including symptoms), performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and effectiveness of treatments.

WHO encourages countries to contribute to the collection and sharing of inpatient data through the WHO COVID-19 clinical data platform to quickly describe clinical features and patient outcomes.

More information will appear in the coming days and weeks. The WHO TAG-VE will continue to monitor and evaluate the data as it becomes available and to assess how mutations in Omicron alter the behavior of the virus.

Recommended actions for countries

As Omicron has been designated a variant of concern, WHO recommends that countries take several actions, including improving surveillance and sequencing of cases; share genomic sequences on publicly accessible databases, such as GISAID; report initial cases or clusters to WHO; conduct field investigations and laboratory evaluations to better understand whether Omicron exhibits different transmission or disease characteristics, or has an impact on the effectiveness of vaccines, treatments, diagnostics, or public health and social measures . More details in the November 26 announcement.

Countries should continue to implement effective public health measures to reduce the global circulation of COVID-19, using risk analysis and a scientific approach. They should increase some public health and medical capacity to handle an increase in cases. WHO provides support and advice to countries for preparedness and response.

In addition, it is vitally important that inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines are urgently addressed to ensure that vulnerable groups everywhere, including health workers and the elderly, receive their first and second. doses, as well as equitable access to treatment and diagnostics.

Recommended actions for people

The most effective measures individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus are to keep a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others; wear a properly fitted mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or overcrowded spaces; keep hands clean; coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or handkerchief; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

WHO will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available, including following TAG-VE meetings. In addition, information will be made available on WHO’s digital and social media platforms.

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