Omicron, a new coronavirus variant revived old conspiracy theories this week as widely: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, 26 November, named the recently detected B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19 ‘Omicron’, ” while adding that it was not certain whether this variant was more transmissible or more severe than Delta and other previous variants of the virus.

However, several posts on social media have gone viral, claiming that Omicron is highly infectious and deadly. The viral post purports to be a message from Dr. Angelique Coetzee, “one of the RSA (Republic of South Africa) medical group.” Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has assessed the risk level of Omicron as “very high”, according to the latest reports, it is still unsure about the transmissibility and severity of the strain. No deaths from Omicron have yet been reported and PCR tests are still recommended to detect the virus.

IS THE OMICRON STRAIN MORE DEADLY THAN OTHER STRAINS?

The viral article claims that there are more deaths due to the Omicron strain. However, according to the latest media reports, no deaths have been reported from this variant so far. The WHO has also not called this variant more deadly. In fact, at this time, the leading public health agency is still unsure of the severity of this strain.

CURRENT KNOWLEDGE ABOUT OMICRON

Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and we will continue to share the results of these studies as they become available.

Transmissibility: It is not yet known whether Omicron is more transmissible (i.e., more easily transmitted from person to person) than other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has increased in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiological studies are underway to understand whether this is due to Omicron or other factors.

The severity of disease: It is not yet known whether infection with Omicron results in more severe disease than infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggest an increase in hospitalization rates in South Africa, but this may be due to an increase in the total number of people infected, rather than specific Omicron infection. There is currently no information to suggest that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those of other variants. The first reported infections were in college students – younger people who tend to have milder disease – but it will take several days or even weeks to understand the level of severity of the Omicron variant. All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause serious illness or death, especially in the most vulnerable people, so prevention is always essential.

OMICRON MAY REQUIRE A NEW VACCINE

Uğur Şahin, CEO and founder of the pharmaceutical company BioNTech, announced in the columns of the German daily Handelsblatt, picked up by Courrier International, that “we will need a new vaccine against this new variant.” Uğur Şahin explained that the new, more contagious Omicron variant “has a high chance of evading the immune system defenses” generated by vaccines currently on the market. According to BioNTech’s CEO, this new strain of SARS-CoV-2 has “immune evasion capacity. The protection of those currently vaccinated against SARS-CoV may no longer be sufficient.

“This highly mutated virus has arrived earlier than expected,” Şahin said. The 32 mutations identified in this new strain “could cause the body’s immune defenses to no longer sufficiently recognize the protein” that allows the virus to enter the body’s cells.

BioNTech, which works with Pfizer Laboratories, explains that it is currently testing the effectiveness of its vaccine on the new variant: results are expected next week. On this point, the CEO is reassuring: the messenger RNA technique would allow, according to him, “to adapt a vaccine quite quickly to a new mutation”: a new version of the vaccine against Covid-19 is expected in “six weeks“, for the first batches “delivered in about 100 days”. In addition, BioNTech says it is currently working with Moderna on the development of a “new vaccine”.