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Experts Worry About a Possible Omicron Surge in 2022

Experts Worry About a Possible Omicron Surge in 2022

Nearly a month after detecting the Omicron in South Africa, it’s now present in at least 75 countries. Here’s an update on this newest variant of concern, and why experts believe we might have a repeat of 2020 next year due to a possible Omicron surge.

Updates on the Omicron Variant

After identifying it as a variant of concern, experts asked the public not to panic. Sure, they have reason to believe that the Omicron is worse than the Delta in terms of transmissibility and reinfection, but they also said we need more time to get to know it better.

One month after its detection, it seems like we do know more about the newest VOC, and experts are worried about the development.

Transmissibility

One thing that clues experts in a possible Omicron surge is the fact that this variant has at least 50 mutations under its belt. It might mean the variant is more transmissible or it spreads faster than its predecessors¹.

One event that might prove this is the Christmas party in Oslo on November 26, 2021. Out of over 100 attendants, 70% came down with COVID-19. Of them, 17 were confirmed to be infected by the Omicron variant, and experts suspect the majority of cases with no sequencing results are also infected with the newest variant of concern. What’s even more worrying is that 60 other people who dined in the restaurant the same evening also tested positive for COVID-19².

According to reports, Omicron surge is highly likely because the variant multiplies 70% faster in the mouth, nose, and throat cells compared to the currently dominant Delta. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, though: recent reports suggest it causes less severe infection in the lungs³.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Another possible reason for an Omicron surge in 2022 is the waning vaccine efficacy. If, before, it was just a theory, now it’s a concerning reality.

Come to think of it, the majority of the attendants in the Oslo Christmas party were fully vaccinated. Also, of the first 43 Omicron cases in the United States, 34 were fully vaccinated and 14 already received a booster shot.

Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca appear to be less effective in preventing Omicron infection. For instance, Pfizer’s 70% effectiveness against other variants dropped to just 30% against the Omicron. The good news is, being fully vaccinated seems to still protect against hospitalization and severe infections¹.

Severity

If there’s one thing we’re most worried about a possible Omicron surge, it’s the disease severity. Does the Omicron result in serious infections? Will 2022 mean tired healthcare workers, stricter travel restrictions, high oxygen demands, and hospitals operating at full capacities?

Currently, available data show that the Omicron leads to fewer hospitalizations and doesn’t result in severe infections. But the factors surrounding this good news are still unclear.

Come to think of it, many of the investigated Omicron cases involved younger people. And as we know, they are at a lesser risk of contracting the severe infection, to begin with. Moreover, many of the confirmed cases already got their vaccines. For instance, a study in Denmark found that three-quarters of 785 Omicron cases were already vaccinated or boosted. Only 9 required hospital confinement and only 1 needed intensive care unit admission⁵.

At this point, we don’t know if less severe infections were due to the Omicron itself or because of vaccinations.

Implications

Are experts worried about a possible Omicron surge in 2022? Yes, they are. In fact, you can see surges happening now in certain parts of the world, particularly in the United Kingdom⁶.

If an Omicron surge takes place, people can expect more lockdowns and stricter travel bans. But, of course, that depends on the reach of our vaccination efforts and how well we follow the health and safety protocols.

Overall, the message is clear: get vaccinated and receive your booster shot once it’s available.

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Sources

Preliminary findings from study after Christmas party in Oslo, https://www.fhi.no/en/news/2021/preliminary-findings-from-outbreak-investigation-after-christmas-party-in-o/, Accessed December 20, 2021

HKUMed finds Omicron SARS-CoV-2 can infect faster and better than Delta in human bronchus but with less severe infection in lung, https://www.med.hku.hk/en/news/press/20211215-omicron-sars-cov-2-infection, Accessed December 20, 2021

We Know A Lot More About Omicron Now. It’s Not Good News., https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/danvergano/omicron-infection-surge, Accessed December 20, 2021

Effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of concern, https://khub.net/documents/135939561/430986542/Effectiveness+of+COVID-19+vaccines+against+Omicron+variant+of+concern.pdf/f423c9f4-91cb-0274-c8c5-70e8fad50074, Accessed December 20, 2021

Epidemiological characterisation of the first 785 SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant cases in Denmark, December 2021, https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2021.26.50.2101146, Accessed December 20, 2021

UK to see ‘staggering’ omicron surge as it races to deploy boosters — and the world is watching closely, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/16/uks-staggering-omicron-surge-offers-warnings-for-the-us-.html, Accessed December 20, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Dec 21, 2021
Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza