Why are experts concerned about the omicron variant when we still know so little about it?
The short answer is some of what we do know is not good. According to research out of South Africa, the omicron COVID variant is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than delta. That means the omicron mutation appears to allow it to infect people that already have immunity from a previous COVID infection. That could explain how omicron is spreading.
The question this research does not answer is what level of protection vaccines give us against omicron. Scientists believe vaccines are still the most effective protection against severe disease and death, but researchers do believe omicron will make vaccines less effective thanks to how many mutations it has and the types of mutations it has.
So if vaccines still give us some protection against the worst outcomes from omicron, why is the global health community concerned?
Some countries have been relying on natural immunity to manage the pandemic. Places like South Africa and Botswana, hit hard in previous waves, had hoped natural immunity would prevent the next wave. They are both now dealing with a surge in omicron cases.