What we don’t know: With all the panic, it’s important to remember that we still know very little about the new variant – and we have been concerned about variants that will not work in the past. The crucial questions are whether it increases portability, whether it worsens health outcomes – that is, increases deaths and hospital stays – and most importantly, whether it undermines the immunity afforded by vaccines or previous infections. We don’t yet have clear answers to these questions – although the mutations make it likely that it will affect the effectiveness of vaccines to some extent.
If so, vaccine manufacturers need to act quickly to develop new versions. Fortunately, MRNA technology means that reformulating a vaccine is relatively easy. Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said the BBC on Sunday that his company may have a new booster – one that has been optimized for Omicron – that could hit the market as early as early next year.
Researchers around the world are now struggling to collect the data we need to know how concerned we should be. We also don’t know exactly how Omicron came about. Experts have long warned that unequal global access to vaccines – South Africa, where Omicron appears to have originated, has a vaccination rate of 35% – poses a global risk as it gives the virus more opportunities to mutate.
What you can do: As throughout the pandemic, the best that you and your loved ones can do to keep yourself safe is to get yourself vaccinated. If you are offered a booster dose, take it. While it is possible that Omicron could make the vaccine less effective, it will not eradicate them completely.