******UPDATE, 1:05 pm EST, 11/27/21: New cases are being reported in other countries. We can expect more of the same as surveillance goes into overdrive. I keep reminding myself that science doesn’t move at the speed of the news cycle. So we won’t know for a while which details are signal and which are noise. In the meantime, please know that we feel frustrated and impatient, too! And we will stay on the beat. xo, Nerdy Girl Lindsey **********
A: Too soon to tell. (Sigh, the uncertainty is so hard!).
Yesterday the World Health Organization assigned “variant of concern” status and a formal name – Omicron – to a worrisome new strain of the coronavirus. While it’s too soon to tell if Omicron will fizzle or flare, the cruelty of exponential math demands urgent action.
It is *very early* still, and we simply can’t know what we want to know most……
(1) Is Omicron more transmissible?
(2) Is it more virulent (aka causes more damage)?
(3) Is it better at ducking our defenses, including possibly our vaccines and therapeutics?
The good news is that we’ll know more soon. Thanks to the excellent work of South African scientists who sounded the alarm on Omicron, teams around the globe are racing to piece together the answers to each of these three key questions. #thankyouscience
❓Why are scientists worried?
Quoting Dr. Maria Van Kerhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, “This variant has a large number of mutations, and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics.” Of particular concern is the constellation of mutations in the spike protein, the focus of our current vaccines.
Also: South Africa is experiencing rapid spread of Omicron, and it’s been detected in Hong Kong, Botswana, and Israel.
🛑 BUT………it’s important to note:
We’ve been here before. And while Delta flew around the globe, other variants of concern never achieved lift-off.
And early data are just that…EARLY. The preliminary Omicron data provide some (worrisome) clues, but there are more questions than answers at this point
❓So what we can we do in the face of this unsettling news?
First, we can do whatever is in our control to limit viral spread. Vaccinate, mask, test, etc. You know the drill. As long as this disease circulates widely anywhere, the opportunity for viral evolution puts people at risk everywhere. While we’re acting locally, we can think globally. For some that might mean contacting elected officials about global health concerns, while for others that might mean donating to global public health organizations.
We can Google and share info wisely. New variants are click-bait gold thanks to the anxiety and uncertainty they kick up. For Omicron deep dives, the Nerdy Girls recommend Kai Kupferschmidt’s and Helen Branswell’s reporting (links below). These two are veteran infectious disease reporters with A+ smarts and A+ bull detectors.
As always, we’ll stay on the beat. The uncertainty is hard. We promise to share only the best info we can find and help explain the emerging science as it unfolds.
Stay safe, stay sane.
Your Nerdy Girls
Andrew Joseph + Helen Branswell, Stat News article on Omicron (again, stay tuned for more!)