As of today, December 8th, 2021 11:18 AM, the world awaits news on a new variant, Omicron, which is being vigorously analyzed by scientists around the globe. It has been labeled a virus of concern (VOC) – due to its potential ability to do one or more of three things:
- ability to transmit faster
- ability to penetrate natural or vaccine induced immunity
- ability to cause severe illness/hospitalization
First identified on November 24th, 2021, the variant (B.1.1.529) scientists quickly established it had over 50 mutations…32 of them to the spike protein alone – the spike protein are those pointy, prickly rod type shapes around the sphere-like shape you see in all the pictures. Spikes are what allows the virus to penetrate our cells and cause the infection – they are also what our current vaccines target to neutralize the threat.
Through rapid analysis, scientists also discovered that Omicron seems to have evolved alongside Delta before being released upon the world. This suggests that this variant developed independently in one person over time before spreading.
We learned all of this and much more in less than a few days.
It took 30 days for the original identification of the COVID-19 virus. Omicron – through the diligence and transparency of South Africa’s science teams – took only 36 hours. This is Science at blinding speeds.
New, updated vaccines can now be created within a window of 100 days – thanks to cutting-edge mRNA technology infrastructure. If it is determined that the current vaccine does not hold up against the new mutations…that engine will most certainly be fired up.
The world has mobilized and learned. We’ve built an infrastructure to protect us, humans, reactively and hopefully as proactively as currently possible. Our ability to react has become swifter.
Surveillance, and the readiness of medical technologies to fight these threats, protect people from the inside and hopefully avoid or limit future pandemic threats.
Protecting our bodies from the inside is only one of a number of important strategies required for our optimal safety. The omicron virus was determined to be spread in a hotel room from one person’s room to another – presumably through the air traveling between rooms. While the medical community is focused on the priority of saving lives and minimizing illness – there are other opportunities for protection upstream from contracting an infection. Air filtering, water treatment, surface disinfection, and of course hand hygiene are all protective layers ahead of infection. One can think of UVC as protecting our bodies from the outside – an infrastructure that should be applied to all potential transmission routes.
We need all of it, but it is of course far better to avoid infection altogether than have to treat it.
Pfizer, the makers of one of several vaccines available to fight COVID, has announced the early success of their mRNA technology to neutralize the Omicron variant. While more analysis is required, this is great news.
SARS-CoV-2, Anatomy image