Virus Expert Just Gave This Omicron Update
The new coronavirus variant Omicron is cause of concern, say virus experts, who are warning you take safety measures but also say they don't know exactly how dangerous the virus is. (One thing they do know is that Delta is still stalking the USA, so be careful.) To help keep you safe, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb appeared on Face the Nation yesterday. Read on for 5 life-saving pieces of advice from him—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Virus Expert Said This About a Possible Superspreading Event: "It's Concerning"
Some Omicron cases have come out of an anime convention in New York, where visitors had to be vaccinated. Should you be worried Omicron can evade vaccines? "Well, look, it's certainly a greater degree of worry, hearing these anecdotes," said Dr. Gottlieb. "So that conference in that convention in New York only required one dose of vaccine. We don't know the quality of the masks that people were wearing. We have to presume most of them, cloth masks, which aren't going to provide a very high degree of protection against something that's airborne like this. And we also have to keep in mind that we hear the anecdotes of the super spreader events like this. We have a single introduction and a lot of cases coming out of it, but we don't hear about it. All these situations where someone with this new variant came into contact with people and there wasn't any forward transmission because those don't get reported because there's no cases that result. So I think we need to be careful about over-interpreting these events. Now that said, it's concerning. When you see a single introduction into a congregate setting and 30 infections resulting from it…"
Virus Expert Said a Lot of Omicron Cases are in People Who Already Had COVID But It's Still "Too Early" to Draw Conclusions
"It's too early to say that right now the infections, the best data's coming out of South Africa, because they have more, they simply have more cases. And right now all the evidence is that a lot of people who are presenting with infection from this new variant of people who've been previously infected with Delta," said Dr. Gottlieb. "Remember South Africa had a very devastating Delta wave. Probably more than 90% of people in South Africa were unvaccinated were infected with Delta. So we don't know whether or not this new strain is inherently less virulent or it's a more moderate strain of COVID, if i's not causing us severe illness or whether it's presenting that way simply because it's infecting people who already have some pre-existing immunity. So they have some protection from COVID. So they're getting infected, but they're not getting as sick. …The question right now is whether or not this is reinfecting people who have Delta immunity and haven't been vaccinated, or whether it's going to also infect people who have been vaccinated. There's some reason to believe that vaccines could be more protective than just immunity acquired through natural infection from Delta. That's going to be a critical question. We need to figure out in the coming weeks, because we have some important policy decisions that we need to make depending on the answer."
Virus Expert Said Kids Getting Infected is "Concerning"
"In South Africa, you were also seeing a spike in hospitalizations of those under the age of five for parents like me. How concerned do we need to be?" asked Brennan. "Yeah, that's concerning," said Dr. Gottlieb. "I mean, overall 11% of hospitalizations have been under the age of two. And if you, if you look a little above that about, I think below the age of nine, almost 20% of hospitalizations in some of the hospitals, it's compounded by the fact that they're having a very big flu epidemic also in South Africa right now. And when a toddler presents to the hospital with a respiratory illness, what I'm told by physicians on the ground is that they make a presumptive diagnosis of COVID. Even if the kid doesn't test positive for COVID out of an abundance of caution. So there may be some over-reporting of COVID positives when it comes to very young children, but that's concerning. And we have to surmise that the kids are sort of a preserved population. They haven't had Delta infection at the same rate as adults. And they also haven't been vaccinated because they haven't rolled that vaccines to children below the age of 12 in any appreciable numbers. So, you know, the kids are more vulnerable population to any new variant."
Virus Expert Said This About Vacines Tailor-Made for Omicron
Will there be an Omicron-specific vaccine? "Yeah. Look, the companies are doing that," said Gottlieb. "Pfizer, the company I'm on the board of is doing that, and they're going to start some manufacturing of that to be ready. This is going to be a really critical decision because what we've seen in the past, for example, when we engineered a vaccine to specifically target 1351, the old South African variant was that vaccine work well or appeared to work well against 1351, but didn't appear to provide as good coverage against all the other variants. And there's reason to believe that as you develop vaccines that are very specific to some of these new variants, they may not work as well against the full compliment of different variants that we've seen. So you'd want to try to stick with the ancestral strain, the Wuhan strain in the vaccine. I think as long as possible, what happens is as the virus mutates, it probably starts to hide some of the viral targets on its surface. And so you get a vaccine that doesn't provide as broad immunity till the full compliment of targets on surface. So you get a more narrow vaccine." Expects have said don't wait for this; it'll take months; go get the current vaccine.
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
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