Newly discovered COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible, less recognizable to antibodies
A recently discovered COVID-19 variant called omicron is causing concern among the population. The first sample of the omicron variant was taken on Nov. 9, according to the World Health Organization.
The omicron variant has a number of mutations on its spike protein — what the virus uses to latch onto and infect human cells — including ones which increase its transmissibility, and which make it less recognizable to certain antibodies.
Omicron also has a mutation which CNN Health reports helps the variant better attach itself to the cells it infects.
“The number of mutations per se does not mean that the new variant will cause any problems; although it may make it more likely to look different to the immune system,” Dr. Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said in a statement.
The number of mutations to omicron’s spike proteins worries scientists because the spike protein is what the leading COVID-19 vaccines target.
By making the spike protein less recognizable, the vaccines could thus be rendered less effective at seeking out and stopping the virus.
Omicron has so far been found in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, the UK, Italy, Israel, Austria, and Canada.
Doctors are continuing to urge people to get a COVID-19 vaccine and to use physical barriers to help protect against the virus, such as by mask-wearing and physical distancing.
While the omicron variant is cause for concern, several experts told CNN Health that people should remain calm.
“The sky is not falling,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor, told CNN. “We’ve not seen any evidence that omicron causes any more severe disease than any other variants.”