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We still don’t know enough about the Omicron variant to panic


What we don’t know: Amid all the panic, it’s important to remember that we still knew very little about the new variant – and we worried about variants that did nothing in the past. Critical questions center on whether it increases transmissibility, whether it worsens health outcomes—and thus increases mortality and hospitalization—and, crucially, whether it erodes the immunity provided by vaccines, or previous infections. We don’t have definitive answers to any of these questions yet – although it does seem likely, based on the mutations, that they will affect the effectiveness of vaccines to some extent.

If this is the case, vaccine manufacturers will have to move quickly to come up with new versions. Fortunately, mRNA technology means that it is relatively easy to reformulate a vaccine. Moderna Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton He told the BBC Sunday said his company could have a new booster — one modified to handle Omicron — ready to be operational as soon as early next year.

Researchers around the world are now racing to gather the data we need to know how anxious we should be. We also don’t know exactly how Omicron originated. Experts have long warned that unequal access to a vaccine globally – South Africa, where Omicron appears to have originated, has a 35% vaccination rate – poses a global risk as it gives the virus more opportunities to mutate.

What you can do: As has been the case throughout the pandemic, the best thing you and your loved ones can do to protect yourselves is to get vaccinated. If you have been given a booster injection, take it. While Omicron will likely impair the effectiveness of the vaccine, it will not eliminate it completely.

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