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The real reason you should worry about omicron variant

The omicron variant might spread quickly and evade vaccines. Here’s why that’s a big deal

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A woman wears a face mask.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a COVID-19 awareness sign at Lisbon’s international airport on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Experts are concerned about the transmissibility of the omicron variant of the coronaviru.

Armando Franca, Associated Press

The omicron variant of the coronavirus might only lead to mild symptoms. But experts expressed concern that the variant could spread quickly with high transmissibility, according to NBC News.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association who sounded the alarm on the variant over the weekend, told BBC Sunday that most patients infected with omicron might have mild symptoms.

  • “What we are seeing clinically in South Africa — and remember I’m at the epicenter of this where I’m practicing — is extremely mild, for us (these are‚ mild cases. We haven’t admitted anyone, I’ve spoken to other colleagues of mine and they give the same picture,” she said.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor who is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told NBC News that the virus spreading quickly might be the biggest cause for concern with the variant.

  • “I don’t think we know anything about the virulence. What we’re worried more about is the transmissibility and the immune-evasion capabilities,” he said.

Adalja said that the COVID-19 vaccines may stop the severe disease. But unvaccinated people might be more susceptible to reinfection.

  • “It may be that breakthrough infections or reinfections become more common with this, but it’s probably unlikely that you see severe breakthrough infections become common in healthy people,” he said.

There’s some research to back this up. A study by Harvard University found that any new coronavirus variant that spreads quickly can be worse than variants that evades coronavirus vaccines.

  • Transmissibility can be so dangerous because it allows the virus to “catch up” to existing strains, which allow new variants to “do a lot of damage,” Mary Bushman, co-author of the paper, told Newsweek about the findings.

The worst variant, experts said, is one that evades COVID-19 vaccines and spreads quickly.

  • “Thus far, evidence of immune escape — the ability of a variant to evade the immune system and cause reinfections or breakthrough infections — has been a red flag,” Bushman said, according to an interview with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our findings say it’s maybe more of a yellow flag — this is not such a big deal on its own. But when it’s combined with enhanced transmissibility, then it can be a really big deal.”