Friday, 23 February 2024

Evans: Responding to the Omicron variant

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — South Africa reported identification of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24. As many will be aware, it has become known as the “Omicron variant” (B.1.1.529).

Omicron is considered a variant of concern for several reasons: the number of mutations; the replacement of Delta as the dominant variant in South Africa; the potential for increased transmissibility; and concern for decreased effectiveness of neutralizing antibodies provided by our current vaccines.

Multiple continents have already confirmed Omicron cases; Africa, Asia, North America and Europe. The first United States case was identified Dec. 1 in San Francisco. Since then, additional cases have been identified in the U.S. among people that had not traveled internationally, suggesting community spread.

There is much we do not know, at this time. First, it is unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant. A relatively low number of cases have been documented, to date.

Second, it is unknown whether Omicron variant infection is associated with more severe disease; preliminary data from South Africa shows no unusual symptoms.

Third, no data exists to assess vaccine effectiveness or the neutralizing potential with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection on the Omicron variant. Lab and epidemiological studies are underway to answer these concerns. We will learn more in the coming weeks.

The public health response to this new variant has been swift and thorough. The CDC has implemented enhanced surveillance at all public health labs. Select US airports with travelers coming from infected regions are performing additional post-arrival testing. Travel from some south African countries has been suspended.

CDC officials are recommending all travelers get a COVID-19 viral test three to five days after arrival. If you are not fully vaccinated you should quarantine for seven days, even if your test is negative. All travelers who are positive or who develop symptoms should self-isolate.

COVID-19 vaccination remains as our first line of defense. The approved vaccines have proved highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, even in the face of previous variants. As of Dec. 1, 233 million Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine. Outbreaks are much more likely in areas of low vaccination. Areas with more receptive hosts (i.eunvaccinated individuals) are also more prone to give rise to new variants.

Vaccine recommendations are in place for everyone 5 years and above. Boosters are now recommended for everyone 18 years and above at the recommended intervals. Vaccines are widely available in Lake County.

As we progress through this pandemic, we must continue to employ prevention strategies we have learned. These include effective masking while indoors, improved indoor ventilation, social distancing and hand-washing.

Most recently, President Biden has requested all insurance companies reimburse individuals for over-the-counter SARS-CoV-2 test kits.

In the coming months these will become much more available, and should be used when you have concerns regarding increased risk of exposure; for example, contact with individuals outside your regular core group, and before and after travel outside your region.

Omicron is not the first variant of concern to be identified, and, unfortunately, is unlikely to be the last. It is almost certain the Omicron variant will soon be identified in Lake County. SARS-CoV-2 is now endemic in our world community, and we will continue to manage outcomes of that for years.

We are all exhausted by the changes we have endured since the advent of the pandemic. However, keeping apprised of current knowledge surrounding the virus and its variants can help keep you and your loved ones safe. It is also highly fortunate we have such ready access to vaccination and booster doses in the United States and Lake County. New therapeutic treatments are also expected to be authorized soon.

As more is learned about Omicron, we will be better positioned to take appropriate measures to limit its effects on our communities.

If you have considered vaccination but have not gotten around to it, please do so today. Immunity from vaccination typically takes two weeks after a one- or two-dose course has been completed.

More information on the Omicron Variant is available at the following links:

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Omicron-Variant-Fact-Sheet.aspx

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/scientific-brief-omicron-variant.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1201-omicron-variant.html

Are you interested in COVID-19 vaccination, but facing barriers? Call 707-263-8174.

Dr. Charlie Evans is an Emergency Medicine Specialist that has seen firsthand the devastating effects COVID-19 can have on individuals, families and communities, and he has supported Lake County Health Services’ pandemic response.

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