While Americans celebrated being thankful for what seemed like the light at the end of the tunnel of the coronavirus pandemic, a new COVID mutation appeared—dubbed Omicron—and it may be more transmissible. Countries from Europe to the US to East Asia are banning travel from African nations, where the mutation is spreading. How can you stay safe? Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (aka Dr. Anthony Fauci's boss) appeared on Fox News Sunday yesterday morning to provide some insight that can save your life. Read on for five key points—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Virus Expert Warned Omicron is Spreading "Quite, Quite Rapidly"
Although not everything is known about this new variant, "we do know that this is a variant that has a lot of mutations, like 50 of them," warned Dr. Collins. "And more than 30 of those in the spike protein, which is the part of the virus that attaches to your human cells. If you get infected, that is a new record in terms of the number of mutations. Itt does make you worry. Therefore that it's a sufficiently different virus, that it might not respond as well to protection from the vaccines. But we don't know that. We can certainly see that in South Africa and a few neighboring countries in southen part of Africa, this does seem to be spreading quite, quite rapidly. So the inference would be there that it's particularly contagious. We don't know about its severity, trying to collect that data as quickly as possible."
What Does "Spike Protein" Mean and Why Should You Be Concerned?
"Remember the picture of this virus that it has these spikes on its surface, which are made up of protein?" asked Collins. "That's the part of the virus that has to find a receptor on yourself to get inside. So there's sort of a lock and a key there. And this one is apparently able to still do that. It's infecting people, but the shape of that protein is different because of these 30 plus mutations. So that it looks a little different. So if you've raised antibodies against that from previously being infected or from being vaccinated, the question is, well, those antibodies still stick to this version of the spike protein, or will it evade that protection? We need to find that out. To be honest though, that's going to take two or three weeks in both laboratory and field studies to figure out the answer. And that's what all of us as scientists want to know."
Virus Expert Says It's Too Early to Know if The Virus Makes You More Ill
"I think it's too early" to tell, says Dr. Collins. "I think the initial cases were mostly young people who tend to have mild infections. Anyway, we need more data there before we could say confidently that this is not a severe version of the virus, but we should find that out in the next couple of weeks."
Virus Expert Said Get Boosted ASAP, as Soon as You're Eligible
"If you are six months or more from the second dose of an mRNA, either the Pfizer or Moderna, get boosted; if you're two months or more following the single dose of J&J get boosted," said Dr. Fauci. Collins agrees and said now is the time to protect yourself. "This is an action you can take if you're not vaccinated yet. Or if you haven't gotten your booster, it's clear that in all the previous examples of variants, the vaccines have worked to provide protection and the boosters have provided especially strong protection against things like Delta. Given that history, we expect that most likely the current vaccines will be sufficient to provide protection. And especially the boosters will give that additional layer of protection because there's something about the booster that causes your immune system to really expand its capacity against all kinds of different spike, proteins, even ones it hasn't seen before. So please Americans, if you're one of those folks who sort of waiting to see this would be a great time to sign up, get your booster. Or if you haven't been vaccinated already get started. Omicron is one more reason to do this."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.