We still don’t know enough about the Omicron variant to panic

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MIT Technology Review

What we don’t know: With all the panic, it’s important to remember that we still know very little about the new variant – and we have previously worried that variants didn’t work out. The crucial questions are whether it increases portability, whether it worsens health outcomes (thus increasing deaths and hospital stays), and most importantly, whether it undermines the immunity afforded by vaccines or previous infections. We don’t yet have clear answers to these questions – although given the mutations, it is likely that it will affect vaccine effectiveness to some extent.

If so, vaccine manufacturers need to act quickly to develop new versions. Fortunately, mRNA technology makes it relatively easy to reformulate a vaccine. Moderna’s chief medical officer Paul Burton told the BBC on Sunday that his company may have a new booster – one that has been optimized for handling Omicron – that could hit the market as early as early next year.

Researchers around the world are now scrambling to collect the data we need to know how concerned we should be. We also don’t know exactly how Omicron came about. Experts have long warned that uneven global vaccine access – South Africa, where Omicron appears to have originated, has a vaccination rate of 35% – poses a global risk as it gives the virus more opportunities to mutate.

What you can do: As throughout the pandemic, the best you and your loved ones can do to protect yourself by getting vaccinated. If you are offered a booster dose, take it. While it is possible that Omicron could make the vaccine less effective, it will not eradicate them completely.

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