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Is the omicron variant worse than other COVID-19 variants?

Reports suggest the omicron variant may be a mixed bag when it comes to symptoms and spread

People in Waterloo train station in London.
People pass through Waterloo train station, in London, during the morning rush hour on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Reports suggest the omicron variant of the coronavirus may be a mixed bag when it comes to symptoms and spread.
Matt Dunham, Associated Press

Is the new coronavirus variant omicron worse than other COVID-19 variants? Experts remain unsure about what to expect.

What is the omicron variant?

Over the weekend, researchers announced the discovery of a new coronavirus variant with the scientific name B.1.1.529.

  • The World Health Organization warned of a new COVID-19 variant of concern, naming it after the Greek alphabet letter name of “omicron,”
  • The variant has dozens of mutations that might signal it could evade COVID-19 vaccines, spread fast among populations and lead to more severe outcomes. But there’s too little data to determine what the variant will do.

Is omicron worse than delta or other COVID-19 variants?

Experts told The New York Times that early findings of the omicron variant suggest it “may be more transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and to natural infection, than prior versions of the virus.”

  • The vaccines might stop severe illness, experts said. But the booster doses might be needed to truly stop the variant, experts told The New York Times.
  • “We really need to be vigilant about this new variant and preparing for it,” said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, per The New York Times.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House medical adviser on the coronavirus, told ABC’s “This Week” Sunday morning that the U.S. needs to be prepared no matter what comes next with omicron.

  • “The question is, will we be prepared for it?” Fauci said. “And the preparation that we have ongoing for what we’re doing now with the Delta variant just needs to be revved up.”