December 8, 2021
By Sarah Zhang
photo above: health.onlineium.com
WN: We must pay close attention is the clear message of the highlighted article below.
A lot is still unknown around Omicron, but a worrying trend has become clear: This variant sure is spreading fast. In South Africa, the U.K., and Denmark—countries with the best variant surveillance and high immunity against COVID—Omicron cases are growing exponentially. The variant has outcompeted the already highly transmissible Delta in South Africa and may soon do the same elsewhere. According to preliminary estimates, every person with Omicron is infecting 3–3.5 others, which is roughly on par with how fast the coronavirus spread when it first went global in early 2020.
In other words, Omicron is spreading in highly immune populations as quickly as the original virus did in populations with no immunity at all. If this holds and is left uncontrolled, a big Omicron wave lies ahead—bigger than we would have expected with Delta. Cases were already surging ahead of winter. The U.S. already had a too-low vaccination rate. And now Omicron threatens to eat away at the immunity we thought we had.
To be clear, this does not mean the pandemic clock has reset to early 2020. Vaccines and previous infections can blunt the virus’s worst effects. Even if protection against infection is eroded, which experts expect, given Omicron’s heavily mutated spike protein, protection against severe disease and death should be more durable. Hospitalizations, rather than cases, might be a better measure of the virus’s impact, as I and others have argued. But if cases balloon dramatically, even a tiny percentage of patients becoming seriously ill can turn into too many hospitalizations all at once. Therein lies the danger possible with Omicron. “That small proportion of severe disease, if it’s multiplied by millions of cases, that will be bad,” says Jeffrey Barrett, the director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “I’m pretty worried.”
Scientists are now working furiously to understand Omicron’s effect on vaccinated people. Even if most breakthrough cases continue to be mild in the vaccinated, a small uptick in how many are not mild can still impact hospitalizations by the “tiny percent of a huge number” rule.
This “tiny percent of a huge number” problem has been with us since the very beginning of the pandemic. The coronavirus is much less deadly than other emerging viruses that have rung alarm bells in the past—SARS, MERS, or Ebola—but it is a whole lot more transmissible. Across the population, this has still added up to so many severe cases, it overwhelmed our health-care system. COVID patients got worse care, as did anyone unlucky enough to get sick or injured during these big surges. We don’t want to get close to this point again.
Please click on: Omicron Warning Sign