The emergence of the Omicron COVID variant has continued the trend of an evolving virus, which began earlier this year with the emergence of the Delta variant, which now dominates the caseload across the world. Despite mutations in the virus, vaccines are still effective against most COVID variants, though Omicron may be slightly better at circumnavigating vaccines. Comments from Moderna, indicated that vaccines are likely to be less effective against the variant. Their CEO Stéphane Blancel stated that “There is no world I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level.”
Countries including France, Canada, Spain, South Korea and the United States have implemented testing requirements for travelers trying to enter from South Africa, where the new variant was first detected. Some countries have implemented requirements for neighboring nations. The Netherlands, Japan, Italy, Germany and Canada are countries that have outright banned travel to and from South Africa.
South Africa is currently experiencing a renewed surge of COVID cases caused in large part because of the emergence of the Omicron variant. Despite the large number of new cases, deaths in the country have not spiked nearly as much as the cases, aligning with the reports of the new variant being less deadly.
There has been some controversy over the naming of Omicron as the variant was initially supposed to be named after the Greek letter Xi but the WHO spokesperson stated that “‘Xi’ was not used because it was a common last name.” Several media outlets including the Washington Times and Telegraph have reported that the WHO may have made the decision to avoid naming the variant “Xi” to avoid offending China.
The U.S. response to Omicron from the CDC was to recommend vaccine boosters for all adults where the previous statement was that vaccine boosters were an optional choice for American adults and not necessary for protection. With a largely changed COVID variant circumnavigating vaccination and dwindling immunity for most Americans, the booster shot is going to become critical in the next stages of the pandemic.