Local health officials express concerns over Omicron variant

health officials say there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the Omicron variant 

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn (WDEF) – The Omicron Covid variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa. Although little is known about this new variant, World Health Officials say the omicron poses a “very high” global risk.

Now the race is on to determine if existing vaccines will stop its spread.”

The Omicron variant has now spread to at least 14 countries prompting enhanced travel restrictions, some starting  as soon as today. 

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day,” says President Joe Biden.

Local health officials say there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to this new variant 

“There are four big things that we wonder about. #1 Is it more transmissible? #2 Does it cause more severe disease? #3 Is the current vaccination that’s available still effective? It’s not a does it or does it not work it’s to what extent do the mutations in this variant decrease the utility of the vaccines that we have now. The last is for the limited number of therapeutics that we have is will they be effective in treating this disease once you have developed it,” says Dr. Jensen Hyde, Hospitalist at Erlanger.

Omicron contains more than 30 mutations on its spike protein, prompting concerns from some officials  that it could be vaccine resistant. 

“Of the 50 total mutations in the omicron variant about 30-35 of them are on the spike protein. That’s how the virus gets into cells, getting into cells is essential for it to replicate, infect you and have you infect others. It is also the target of the majority of the vaccines that we use in the United States. So a significant change to the spiked protein could potentially have very real ramifications to vaccine efficacy,” says Dr. Hyde.

Though no cases have been confirmed in the US just yet, experts say it’s only a matter of time. They also suggest that  you get your booster shot if you qualify. 

“What we found with the boosters is that when they studied the immunity, getting that third shot really does give that immune system the boost that it needs to fight off the variants. There is still a lot to be known about this variant but the data shows that the third dose is really what gives you longer immunity than the first two,” says Ashley Deverell, Immunization Coordinator with the North Georgia Health District.

Health experts say it’s important for us to continue to do what is best to help protect not only ourselves-but our community.

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