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Do the COVID vaccines work against the omicron variant?

Can you stay safe from the new COVID-19 variant? Here’s what to know

A patient receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
A man receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by medical staff at a vaccination center in Saint jean de Luz, southwestern France, on Monday, Nov.29, 2021.
Bob Edme, Associated Press

Experts are turning to the coronavirus vaccine as a way to stay safe from the omicron variant as we wait for more information.

What is the omicron variant?

The World Health Organization warned of a new COVID-19 variant over the weekend, which the WHO deemed a variant of concern. The variant — with the scientific name B.1.1.529 — was later given the Greek alphabet letter name of “omicron,” as I wrote for the Deseret News.

  • Scientists are worried about the variant because it has a number of mutations that may make it evade COVID-19 vaccines and allow it to be more contagious.
  • There’s also concern that the variant may already be spreading around the world, which has prompted countries to issue travel bans and restrictions.

Are there new COVID-19 symptoms for omicron?

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association who first sounded the alarm on the omicron variant, told the BBC Sunday that she has seen patients with mild symptoms so far.

  • Other experts said there have only been mild symptoms reported so far, per CNBC.
  • But these reports come from a limited group of infected patients. More data is needed to determine the severity of the variant.

How to stay safe from omicron

Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN on Sunday that vaccination can keep you safe from omicron right now.

  • “We have to use every kind of tool in our toolbox to keep (omicron) from getting in a situation that makes this worse,” he said.
  • “It also means we need to pay attention to those mitigation strategies that people are just really sick of, like wearing masks while indoors with other people who might not be vaccinated and keeping that social distance issue,” he added. “I know, America — you’re really tired of hearing those things. But the virus is not tired of us. And it’s shapeshifting itself.”

Similarly, Collins told Fox News Sunday that the variant should be a “wake-up call” to those who are unvaccinated.

  • “If Omicron is one more wake-up call then let’s wake up and, come on, America, you can do this,” he said. “These vaccines are safe. They’re effective. People have been using them for more than a year, 200 million people plus have gotten injected. These are something you want for yourself, your family, your community.”

Is there an omicron COVID-19 vaccine?

Not yet. But Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said Moderna is looking to develop a COVID-19 vaccine that will specifically tackle the new omicron variant, especially if the virus can evade other COVID-19 vaccines.

  • “We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
  • “If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” he said.
  • “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast,” he said.