What is the Omicron Variant, and why is it a problem now?
A new variant of the COVID-19 virus emerged in South Africa, November of 2021, called Omicron. This variant is characterized by the highest transmissibility while causing breakthrough infection. It results from almost 30 mutations, 26 unique to the spike protein. Even though it is deemed mild, the rapid transmissibility is already overwhelming the health care system.
What tests detect this Omicron variant?
The tests are essentially the same as those used for the COVID-19 virus. Home tests are available and can be used to test for the virus. In addition, Rapid tests can be conducted at testing sites or be found at pharmacies. If the rapid test provides a positive result, one should complete a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.
Are there vaccinations available for children?
Clinical trials indicated that a set of two vaccinations didn’t significantly augment immunity (ages 2-5). As a result, a third shot is being developed before public release, which will hopefully be in early 2022. As of now, there are no vaccines currently available for younger children.
Why do we need booster shots?
Booster vaccines work by synthesizing more antibodies while also reactivating one’s immune response. Omicron is called a variant because its spike protein is mutated, making it more likely to evade our body’s defenses. This mRNA-based booster works by allowing our immune system to recognize this altered surface spike protein. The larger the concentration of antibodies that recognize the protein, the more likely the virus is able to be caught, thereby decreasing the likelihood of contracting the infection.
Is it a good idea to get a different booster dose from a different company?
Yes, a major British study has found that when a patient receives two initial doses of Astra Zeneca followed by Moderna as a booster dose, the immunity to the virus increases. WHO and CDC have approved mixing of the 2nd dose and booster vaccines. The mixing and matching of the vaccines can be done based on their availability.
What groups are vulnerable to contracting this variant?
Recent studies have found that Omicron is resistant to all antibody therapy, including monoclonal antibodies. Studies have found that the most at-risk demographics are individuals above the age of 65 and children 5 or below (due to the inability to be vaccinated) are at the highest risk of falling ill and being hospitalized with the Omicron variant.
What can I do to prevent contracting the virus while traveling?
Granted there is pandemic fatigue but being extra cautious is the key to prevent these infections. Limiting travel and avoiding congested places and gatherings are recommended. A multifaceted approach to prevent infections including wearing a mask indoors (N95 on planes), socially distancing (6 ft. apart), increasing ventilation when possible (e.g., opening windows), washing hands with soap and water, quarantining when sick, and completing a test before travel and events.
Who is eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment?
Essentially, individuals at a higher risk of having a more severe response or being hospitalized are eligible. However, studies have found that Omicron is resistant to monoclonal antibody infusion. Regardless, an attempt can be made but must be done within ten days of observing symptoms.
What are the long-term impacts of contracting COVID-Omicron Variant?
Persistence of the virus for more than four weeks after the initial infection is termed “long haulers”. Symptoms may include joint pain, fogginess, chest pain, mood disorders, chronic headaches, and memory loss in some rare incidences. The virus may also cause organ damage, including lungs, liver, and kidneys. Some patients have also demonstrated clotting abnormalities resulting in a stroke, heart damage, and kidney failure.
What drugs can be used to fight against this virus?
Paxlovid by Pfizer and Molnupiravir by Merck are the two drugs approved by FDA which are to be used only in emergency cases. These are essentially used in patients who have moderate symptoms and are at risk of progression and severe disease. Paxlovid can be used in pediatric patients (12 years and older) and adults. Molnupiravir cannot be used for patients under 18 as it affects bone and cartilage, affecting young adults’ growth.
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