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Omicron variant of COVID-19 draws concern, but experts say they need more data

The variant is one of "concern" but two public health experts say the "sky is not falling."

TRIGGER WARNING: If you don't want to know anything about coronavirus, believe it's not real or that is was planned, then this story is probably not for you.

It's the latest variant, something with two paths — the troubling severity of Delta; or something less severe — but the Omicron variant is raising concerns around the world.

In just a week, the Omicron variant was detected in South Africa, loaded with mutations, and drawing the attention of scientists. By Friday, the World Health Organization described it as a "variant of concern."

The concern is that the variant may be more transmissible than the Delta strain of COVID-19. In Kerr County, the Delta Strain has killed more than 50 people and hospitalized hundreds of people since August. Most of those who have died or been hospitalized have been unvaccinated.

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At least one South African doctor, who was among the first to treat Omicron patients, told the BBC that the symptoms in her patients appear mild.

"What we are seeing clinically in South Africa, and remember that I'm at the epicenter, that's where I'm practicing, is extremely mild…We haven't admitted anyone [to hospital]. I spoke to other colleagues of mine: The same picture," Dr. Angelique Coetzee told the BBC.

Harvard physician Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine doctor who writes a Meta Bulletin newsletter (The Lead is part of the same newsletter program funded by Meta), described the variant as lacking data.

"Omicron has over 30 mutations in the spike protein an unusually large number of mutations," Faust wrote. "This suggests that the variant may have emerged from a single patient whose body could not clear the infection, remaining contagious for far longer than most patients. The longer an infection persists, the more mutations one virus can accumulate. This is known to occur in people with profoundly compromised immune systems."

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See @jeremyfaust's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/jeremyfaust

Like many U.S. physicians, Faust wants to see more data before making a full judgment, but he acknowledges the concern.

"As I write this, I remain of mixed mind. Part of me wants more data and part of me acknowledges that my colleagues across the world are seeing something that worries them, and we should pay attention," Faust wrote.

Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatric molecular virology at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, argues that travel bans are not effective, but the emphasis should be on greater vaccination efforts in Africa. In South Africa, where the variant emerged, vaccinations have reached just 25% of the population.

"Finally, remember that Omicron like Alpha/Delta arose from an unvaccinated population," Hotez wrote on Twitter on Nov. 26. "Had G7 leaders committed to vaccinating the African continent, we would not be having this discussion. There's not enough mRNA/adeno to vaccinate Global South, but lots of our protein vaccine."

Twitter
See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/PeterHotez

Twitter
See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/PeterHotez

Twitter
See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/PeterHotez

Twitter
See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/PeterHotez

Twitter
See @PeterHotez's post on Twitter.
twitter.com/PeterHotez

In Texas, 72% of those infected with the Delta variant were unvaccinated, according to a study released by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The study found 81% of the deaths were those unvaccinated.

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