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The COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world last year. Over the summer it seemed like an end may be near as cases started to dwindle then the Delta variant reared its head. Coronavirus cases began to surge once again and now there may be a new variant — Omicron — that has started sprouting up.
This new variant has popped up in a few cases in South Africa. Pfizer and BioNTech stated they believe a COVID vaccine could be modified and manufactured within 100 days to counter a “vaccine-escape” variant. The vaccine makers have announced they are “remaining vigilant” as they are “constantly conducting surveillance efforts focused on monitoring for emerging variants that potentially escape protection from our vaccine.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the new strain with the Greek letter Omicron. Due to it being highly transmissible, Omicron is a “variant of concern.”
Scientists are unclear on how effective COVID-19 vaccines will be against Omicron, which exhibits mutations that might resist neutralization. The new COVID variant has been identified in several dozen cases in South Africa, Israel, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Botswana.
Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, Tulio de Oliveira, said the new COVID-19 strain has more than 30 in the spike protein alone. Spike protein is the chief target of human antibodies that immune systems use to combat diseases.
Dr. Joe Phaahla, South Africa’s health minister, said that the new COVID variant has largely been detected among the country’s young people. A little over a quarter of people ages 18 to 34 are vaccinated in South Africa.
Beginning on Monday, President Joe Biden has restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region. This means only returning United States citizens and permanent residents who test negative will be allowed to travel into the country. Canada, Russia, and the European Union have also paused flights to and from South Africa.
Written by Sheena Robertson
NBC Chicago: Chicago Health Officials Watching New Omicron Variant ‘Very Closely’ After WHO Announces New COVID Threat
The New York Times: What we know about the Omicron variant.; by Lynsey Chutel
Fox News: Omicron COVID-19 variant: Pfizer, BioNTech say vaccine could be reworked in 100 days to counter strain; by Julia Musto
Images by GCIS Courtesy of GovernmentZA – Creative Commons License