Fighting Omicron — The variant of concernSunday, December 05, 2021
Dr Ché Bowen
The holiday season is upon us and in the midst of our joy and gathering, we are reminded that COVID-19 is still a real threat. On November 24, 2021, South African health officials raised the alarm about a new mutated version of the COVID-19 virus. A day later, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed it a 'variant of concern' and named it Omicron. Since then, approximately 23 countries have reported cases of the Omicron variant including South Africa, the United Kingdom, Canada, Botswana, the Netherlands and the United States. Travel bans have been issued by several nations, including Jamaica, to most Southern African states. What does this new variant mean for Jamaicans as we approach the holiday season?
What is a 'variant of concern'?
The Omicron variant has become the next designated variant of concern announced by the WHO since the Delta variant emerged in late 2020. Variants of concern are generally assessed among the following categories: increased transmissibility (meaning more people becoming infected), increase in deaths, ability to evade natural immunity causing reinfections, ability to infect vaccinated individuals, among several other criteria. It is too soon to tell the exact nature of the Omicron variant. However, it has proven to be far more easily transmissible than previous variants, including the Delta variant. There has been no indication that this variant makes you sicker or that it has caused more deaths. However, in countries where the Omicron variant has been discovered, they are suggesting that an increase in hospitalisations is a result of an increase in infection rates. A major concern lies with how the Omicron variant may reduce the COVID-19 vaccine's efficiency. At this time, researchers and doctors believe that vaccinated individuals will still have some form of protection against the Omicron variant.
How can Jamaicans protect themselves from the Omicron variant?
Although there have not been any confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Jamaica at this time, Jamaicans should still be on alert and prepare for the possibility of it reaching the island. You are encouraged to continue proven methods of protecting yourself from the novel coronavvirus including wearing masks, practising proper hygiene, sanitising, avoiding crowds and maintaining social distancing. If you have not already received your vaccine, you are encouraged to do so as soon as possible. Vaccines are a proven way of ensuring that if you do contract the virus, you are not hospitalised or worse.
How do vaccines help to prevent future variants?
Vaccines are continuing to be encouraged across the world as new variants pop up. With more variants coming up that are more contagious than others it increases the risk of more frequent and drastic surges of the virus numbers. What this means is an added strain on the health-care sector and a lack of resources to combat the surges. Ultimately, this may lead to the number of deaths increasing. Variants can develop when the virus spreads rapidly giving it a chance to mutate into a stronger version. This poses a risk in areas with low vaccination rates. Today, Jamaica's vaccination rate stands at only 17.2 per cent. This rate will need to significantly increase for Jamaicans to be protected from Omicron and other variants that may develop.
As the Christmas season approaches, be smart with your celebrations. Ensure your loved ones are vaccinated before you gather and maintain health protocols when you do. The Omicron variant has not reached us yet and as we learn more about the strength of this variant we should remain prepared and keep safe.
Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at email@example.com.