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Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern by World Health Organization

The Omicron variant just might be the scariest version of COVID yet. The WHO just announced that this SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, B.1.1.529, has been elevated to a “variant of concern.” The 3 things about Omicron that make it SUPER concerning:
1. The specific mutations on the spike protein
2. The number of mutations in this virus
3. The fact that this FASTEST spreading COVID Variant The Covid Omicron variant emerged in South Africa.
It was first discovered by scientists a few days ago. It has over 30 mutations on the spike protein that raise concerns that it might be more contagious, possibly cause more severe infection, and might evade our vaccines. This is not known for sure, but there is a HIGH level of concern, mainly because of how FAST this virus is spreading there. The question is, will our vaccines still be effective against the Omicron variant? That was the concern when Delta came out, and thankfully, our vaccines remain effective against Delta. But Delta doesn’t have the same number of mutations as Omicron, and the big FEAR this virus evading our immune system might come true. I mean, we’ve had new variants emerge. We have seen many variants pop up over the last 8 months, and most of them, for example, Lamda, have not amounted to much. I mean, you hear about these new variants emerging all the time. They’re expected. And they’re detected because scientists are constantly running surveillance on COVID. But here we are with the new one, Omicron. It has a certain level of concern, not just because it has MORE mutations in its spike protein, over 30 mutations, but also because some of those mutations are the SAME mutations as the other 4 variants of concern. But we won’t really know if this variant will escape our vaccines until probably a few weeks from now because it takes time to do these studies.

The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus. The TAG-VE was convened on 26 November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529. 

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24 November 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021. 

This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.

There are a number of studies underway and the TAG-VE will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate new findings with Member States and to the public as needed.

Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron. 

As such, countries are asked to do the following: 

  • enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.
  • submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database, such as GISAID. 
  • report initial cases/clusters associated with VOC infection to WHO through the IHR mechanism. 
  • where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics. To read more go to the link below:

https://www.who.int/news/item/26-11-2021-classification-of-omicron-(b.1.1.529)-sars-cov-2-variant-of-concern

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