‌What is Omicron?

Published on:
Mar 1, 2022
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As the wave of the Delta variant crested, a new variant began sweeping through the globe at lightning speed. The name of the variant? Omicron. Within mere days, it seemed like infection rates skyrocketed and even those fully vaccinated came down with the virus.

So, what happened? In this article, we’ll explore what Omicron is, what we know so far about the virus, and the toll that this variant will take on all of our lives.

What is Omicron?

Omicron is the latest variant of the COVID-19 virus. According to the CDC, the Omicron variant spreads more easily than both the original COVID-19 virus and the Delta variant. The CDC expects that anyone who has contracted Omicron can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.

The symptoms of Omicron are similar to previous variants and include upper respiratory or cold-like symptoms (e.g. runny nose, congestion, sneezing, sore throat) and headaches. There are reports that upper respiratory symptoms are more prominent with Omicron than lower respiratory symptoms—like cough—in people who are otherwise healthy and vaccinated.

Of course, it’s important to note that the presence and severity of symptoms can be affected by COVID-19 vaccination status, other health conditions, age, and history of prior infection.

What we know so far

As Omicron spreads fast and furious around the world, researchers are scrambling to better understand this variant and how it differs from other variants of COVID-19.

What we do know is that we’re still seeing serious cases of all ages with Omicron. These cases are ill enough to need intensive care unit level care. We’re also continuing to see deaths, particularly in people who are unvaccinated. 

That being said, all variants of COVID-19 (including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide) can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people. That’s why prevention is always key. 

The most effective steps we can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus are:

  • Keep a physical distance of at least six feet from others
  • Wear a well-fitting mask
  • Open windows to improve ventilation 
  • Avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces 
  • Keep hands clean 
  • Cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue 
  • Get vaccinated

Researchers are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron. Here are some of the latest findings from recent articles published on the Juisci app:

  • Mutations in the Omicron variant improve spike trimer stability that supports viral attachment but appears to compromise viral fusion. They also influence the confirmation of antigenic sites for antibody recognition, which may contribute to immune evasion. These findings can be used for the development of future vaccines and therapies. (Cui et al., 2022)
  • The Omicron variant pseudovirus exhibits escape from vaccine-induced humoral immunity. However, a third dose of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine elicited humoral immunity capable of cross-neutralizing this strain. In addition, pseudovirus produced with the Omicron spike exhibited more efficient transduction of ACE2-expressing target cells than other variants. (Garcia-Beltran et al., 2022)
  • Omicron has a large number of mutations, especially in the spike protein, indicating that recognition by neutralizing antibodies may be compromised. After testing several pseudovirus references on participants who received two or three doses of the mRNA–based COVID-19 vaccine, they found that Omicron-neutralizing titers were reduced. The requirement of a third vaccine dose to effectively neutralize Omicron was confirmed with sera from a subset of participants using live SARS-CoV-2. These data suggest that three doses of the mRNA vaccine may protect against Omicron-mediated COVID-19. (Muik et al., 2022)

How Omicron has impacted our lives

As we settle into the third year of the global pandemic, our lives as we know them have shifted to a “new normal.” The impact on the economy, travel, employment, and the restaurant and supply chain industries has been massive.

Americans continue to file claims for unemployment benefits. The upside: while workplace activity recently declined (after rising earlier in December 2021), it was in line with the drop seen heading into the 2019 holidays season—and stronger when compared to the same time last year.

According to Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who was an adviser to President Barack Obama, “It’s a vast difference from 2020, where there were mass layoffs. Now employers are holding on to people because they expect to be in business in a month.”

As the virus spreads, people continue to cut back on dining out. According to recent data from OpenTable, the number of diners seated at U.S. restaurants was down 10% for the week ending Dec. 23 when compared with the same week in 2019.

In supply chain news, a surge in Omicron across China and the rest of Asia could trigger a massive supply chain stumble this year. Asia has yet to see a major wave of Omicron, meaning the worst of the impact has yet to come. Experts worry that Omicron could compound supply-chain backlogs in the United States as well, prolonging the recent bout of high inflation and putting pressure on the U.S. government to act.

Recently, President Biden announced new steps to stimulate the health and economic consequences of the infection surge. These announcements included new testing and vaccination sites, more at-home rapid tests, and an extension of the pause on student loan payments until May 1, 2022.

In more uplifting news: Experts say that despite the economic slowdown, growth could rebound quickly in the second quarter and the economy could expand by just over four percent next year. That would be almost double the annual growth rate that prevailed in the decade before the pandemic.

Takeaways of this article about Omicron

It’s becoming clear that COVID-19 and its many variants aren’t going away any time soon. That’s why it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest findings on the virus and its spread.

Stay updated on the latest news about Omicron and COVID-19 with Juisci. Download the app today and join the conversation. 


References

World. (2021, November 28). Update on Omicron. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron

CDC. (2022, February 2). Omicron Variant: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/omicron-variant.html

Marte, J. (2021, December 23). Analysis: Omicron begins to leave mark on U.S. economy, but unlikely to derail it. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/business/omicron-begins-leave-mark-us-economy-unlikely-derail-it-2021-12-23/

Curran, E. (2022, January 12). China’s Omicron Outbreak Is Even Worse News for Global Supply Chains. Retrieved from: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-12/global-supply-chains-brace-for-impact-as-omicron-reaches-china

Omicron’s Economic Toll: Missing Workers, More Uncertainty and Higher Inflation (Maybe). (2022). The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/business/economy/omicron-economy.html

Malcom, K. (2022, January 20). Is Omicron really mild? Retrieved from: https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/wellness-prevention/omicron-really-mild

Cui, Z., Liu, P., Wang, N., Wang, L., Fan, K., Zhu, Q., … Xie, X. S. (2022). Structural and functional characterizations of infectivity and immune evasion of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron. Cell. https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0092-8674%2822%2900077-0

Garcia-Beltran, W. F., St. Denis, K. J., Hoelzemer, A., Lam, E. C., Nitido, A. D., Sheehan, M. L., … Balazs, A. B. (2022). mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine boosters induce neutralizing immunity against SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant. Cell. https://www.cell.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0092-8674%2821%2901496-3

Muik, A., Lui, B. G., Wallisch, A.-K., Bacher, M., Mühl, J., Reinholz, J., … Şahin, U. (2022). Neutralization of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron by BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine–elicited human sera. Science, 375(6581), 678–680. https://www.science.org/doi/epdf/10.1126/science.abn7591

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