WRAP: Omicron Virus Creeps Its Way Into Multiple US Cities: Focus on Vaccine Booster Dose

As people just started adjusting to the notion that the coronavirus would come to its dead end with the Delta variant, a new Covid-19 variant called Omicron spurred tensions across the world. Recently, on Thursday, the United States has reported multiple cases of the Omicron virus. The authorities confirmed their first case on Wednesday afternoon. Following the investigation about the first Omicron virus case, the White House and the public health officials found that the variant was transmitted in a traveler, a San Francisco resident, who came back from South Africa to California Bay Area. Luckily, none of his close contacts were infected by the new virus, and all of them tested negative.

The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) has also updated the situation on the first victim. They said, "The California and San Francisco Departments of Public Health have confirmed that a recent case of COVID-19 among an individual in California was caused by the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529). The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021. The individual had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative."

Starting from Monday, the Biden government has imposed a travel ban by closing the entry gates to the U.S. for travellers from places like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Namibia, and Mozambique. Addressing the issue to Biden, Dr Anthony Fauci, America's top health official, stated that "The news about this new variant should make it clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations."

So far, no less than five Omicron cases were discovered in the New York City metropolitan area. Another report said that the new strain was found in a Colorado woman who circumnavigated from Southern Africa. There is no scientific-proven evidence stating whether the Omicron variant is life-threatening or not. Even the World Health Organization is unassertive about to what extent this new variant is transmissible.

The latest update shared by the WHO on the Omicron variant is that "There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants." However, "All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key."

The White House said in a statement about the new variant hue and cry state of affairs in the U.S that, "We will remain steadfast in our fight against this virus. And we will continue to be guided by the science and proven public health measures to keep people safe." While the world is trying to figure out ways to curb this virus, Israeli scientists say that only booster doses can adequately protect people from the new strain. Some countries have already approved inoculating their citizens with booster doses.

According to the study by The New England Journal Of Medicine, "participants who were 60 years of age or older and had received two doses of the BNT162b2 vaccine at least 5 months earlier, we found that the rates of confirmed Covid-19 and severe illness were substantially lower among those who received a booster (third) dose of the BNT162b2 vaccine."

The study found that people inoculated with the booster dose were 19.5 times less likely to get severely infected by the Covid-19. After further analysis, the study also discovered that "the rate of confirmed infection at least 12 days after vaccination was lower than the rate after 4 to 6 days by a factor of 5.4 (95% CI, 4.8 to 6.1)." Israel happened to be the first country to initiate the third dose booster shots, and so far, 3 million were inoculated.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, Jeff Zients, has strongly recommended all U.S. citizens to get their jabs without fail. He also added, "the president's medical team continues to believe that existing vaccines will provide some level of protection against severe illness from omicron, and individuals who have gotten boosters have even stronger protection."

Omicron, being a new variant, none of the booster jabs would entirely protect the citizens from getting infected. However, those fully inoculated with the booster doses will have better immunity to face a new strain. As far as the symptoms of this highly mutated strain go, it can be "extremely mild", said Dr Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor who first spotted the new variant. Some of the main symptoms of Omicron are mild headache, body fatigue, sore muscles, tiredness, and body aches, suggests Dr Coetzee.

Eric Feigl-Ding - Epidemiologist & health economist