The World Health Organization has designated a new SARS-CoV-2 variation, which was originally detected by experts in South Africa on November 24, as a “variant of concern” (VOC). A growing number of countries have reported cases, including Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia.
Evidence suggests that the new Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta form, which is already highly transmissible. The greater the distribution of the virus, the more probable it is to mutate. As the virus spreads after infecting a human host, mutations occur. A virus’s goal once inside a person is to tell the human host’s cells to generate copies of the virus, which then infect more cells and eventually other individuals. Mutations are random flaws in the virus’s DNA that arise during the replicating process as it quickly multiplies its genetic material.
Mutations are far more likely to occur in people with weakened immune systems, because clearing the virus takes longer, giving it more time to multiply and mutate, and in people who have not been vaccinated, because their immune systems have not been primed by vaccines to destroy the virus quickly before it has a chance to mutate. South Africa has a poor vaccination rate, with just about 35% of the population fully vaccinated, and Botswana, where the virus is likely to have originated, has an even lower vaccination rate, owing in part to worldwide vaccine inequity. If Omicron did come from South Africa, this could be one of the reasons.
Before classifying new variants as “variants of concern,” scientists examine whether they are likely to accomplish one of three things: make the virus resistant to vaccination effects, make the virus more transmissible when compared to current variants, or make patients sicker if they get the new variant. It has been proven to be linked to one or more of the aforementioned factors.
Scientists are still researching on this new virus and there are lot of things still remain unsure for now, while research unfolds, it is important that we keep staying safe, practice social distancing and wear face masks, whether fully vaccinated or not.
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