The new omicron variant of covid-19 has governments, medical experts and researchers scrambling to learn more so they can try and contain it. Many countries have implemented travel bans at record pace and are ramping up vaccination efforts. Some say omicron is a milder variant of the coronavirus, but one epidemiologist says now is not the time to take it lightly.
“Lots of misinformation now being floated that #Omicron is ‘mild’. That’s nonsense — based on out-of-context quote. Don’t fall for it — nobody know that much yet. And hospitalizations are still rising in the hardest hit #B11529 dominant provinces in South Africa,” Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding tweeted on Sunday, Nov. 28.
Dr. Feigl-Ding is an epidemiologist, health economist and Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington DC as well as the chief health economist for Microclinic International, according to an online bio. Prior to this, Feigl-Ding was a researcher and faculty member at Harvard Medical School.
The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana last week and has also been spreading rapidly. It has also been found in South Africa, Hong Kong, Canada, U.K., Australia, Germany, Israel, Italy, and more.
It became the dominant covid-19 variant in South Africa less than two weeks after detection and was designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26, according to a statement.
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“This decision was based on the evidence … that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes,” WHO’s statement said.
There is concern the variant could be vaccine-resistant and pose an “increased risk of reinfection” – which is one of the reasons Dr. Feigl-Ding and others are advising that omicron be taken just as seriously as other variants. In a follow-up Twitter thread on the subject, he further explained his position.
“Let’s hypothetically suppose it is ‘milder’ – but Even if it’s milder than delta, the increased transmissibility and/or immune escape would still make it more dangerous than delta,” Feigl-Ding wrote. “Exponentially more cases is still exponentially more hospitalizations & deaths!”
Dr. Feigl-Ding isn’t the only one advising people exercise caution. While experts are still testing an array of actors about omicron, what they already know has caused them concern.
“What we do know, it has a lot of mutations, more than 50, that’s a new record,” National Institutes for Health Director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN. “Some of those we’ve seen before and some we haven’t. So this certainly suggests that this is a new kind of virus that we have to take very seriously.”