The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been called a variant of concern by WHO based on the evidence that it has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves. There is still substantial uncertainty regarding Omicron and a lot of research underway to evaluate its transmissibility, severity and reinfection risk.
How did the Omicron variant develop?
When a virus is circulating widely and causing numerous infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.
New variants like Omicron are a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. It is therefore essential that people get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and keeping indoor areas well ventilated.
It is also crucial that vaccines and other public health measures are accessible everywhere. Vaccine inequity leaves lower income countries – many of them in Africa – at the mercy of COVID-19. Well-supplied countries must urgently deliver the doses they promised.
Where is the Omicron variant present?
Is the Omicron variant more severe than other COVID-19 variants?
Early findings suggest that Omicron might be less severe than the Delta variant, but more data is needed and WHO warns that it should not be dismissed as “mild”. Studies are ongoing and this information will be updated as it becomes available.
It is important to remember that all variants of COVID-19 can cause severe disease or death, including the Delta variant that is still dominant worldwide, which is why preventing the spread of the virus and reducing your risk of exposure to the virus is so important.
Is the Omicron variant more contagious?
Omicron is spreading more quickly than other variants. Based on the information available, WHO believes it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where there is COVID-19 transmission in the community.
However, being vaccinated and taking precautions such as avoiding crowded spaces, keeping your distance from others and wearing a mask are critical in helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we know these actions have been effective against other variants.
Does the Omicron variant cause different symptoms?
Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective against the Omicron variant?
Researchers are looking into any potential impact the Omicron variant has on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Information is still limited, but there may be a small reduction in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe illness and death, and a decline in preventing mild disease and infection. However, WHO reports that so far it looks like the currently available vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease and death.
It is also important to be vaccinated to protect against the other widely circulating variants, such as the Delta one. When it’s your turn, make sure to get vaccinated. If your vaccination involves two doses, it’s important to receive both in order to have the maximum protection.