Over the last two years, in the long and arduous fight against COVID-19, we’ve had our victories. The myriad of vaccines, booster jabs, and an exciting new COVID-19 treatment pill have unearthed the potential of a world without COVID-19. However, as we collectively continue to forge our path out of this pandemic, this virus continues to fight back.
On November 26th, the World Health Organisation announced Omicron as a new COVID-19 variant of concern. The variant was recently detected in South Africa and has spread quickly to more than 77 countries, including the United Kingdom. As a result, restrictions in the UK have tightened, and the increasing rates of infection and hospitalisation have reinforced the danger of this new variant.
Simply put, Omicron is effectively a new version of the virus, COVID-19. All viruses fight with the sole goal of living for as long as possible. They naturally change over time to avoid being caught and destroyed by our immune systems. These random changes, or “mutations”, happen in the genetic makeup of the virus, which tells it how it should multiply and attack our healthy cells.
Every so often, the virus changes in ways that help it survive for longer in our bodies. The Omicron variant has improved its ability to enter our cells and quickly replicate. For context, while the Delta variant has less than 13 mutations compared to the original COVID-19 virus, the Omicron variant has a total of 60 new mutations!
Because of all its surface level and molecular changes, Omicron can spread more easily, suppress our natural immune responses, and evade the protection that our immune systems have built up from vaccines.
The latest reports on infection rates and hospitalisations have confirmed the insidious and highly transmissive nature of the variant. Our latest government data shows that as of December 19th 2021, 82,886 new people have tested positive for the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, with it now accounting for a third of cases and Delta accounting for the remainder of cases. In London alone, Omicron has become the majority variant, accounting for 80-100% of all new Covid-19 cases. Omicron is spreading quickly in London and has shown to be twice as transmissible as the Delta variant. The data predicts that the number of Omicron infections doubles every 2.5 days, which means that by Christmas day, the whole of the UK could have more than one million daily Omicron infections!
Science shows that the best way to protect yourself and loved ones against the new and dangerous Omicron variant is to receive a booster vaccine. The UK Health Security Agency recently announced that a two-dose course of Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines may not be enough to neutralise the virus. However, a booster or third dose of the Pfizer vaccine was able to provide significant protection against symptoms of Omicron. Moderna has not released data on its efficacy against Omicron yet, but emerging studies show that a Moderna booster may prove highly effective against Omicron as well.
If you haven’t already, we highly recommend taking advantage of the NHS’s new “Get Boosted Now” booster programme. To avoid queues and rushes to vaccination centres, try making your booking online through the National Booking System.
After you receive your booster, it can take up to several days for the protection to kick in. Continuing to use protective measures can ensure that you keep yourself and others safe. Protective measures like wearing your face mask indoors, maintaining a 1 metre distance from others, testing regularly with lateral flow tests, and washing your hands throughout the day, can be combined with the booster jab to provide the best protection against Omicron through the holiday season.
Keeping Omicron at bay is as simple as registering for your booster jab and sticking to protective measures. As a community, we can each play our part to pave a path to a COVID-19 free world and limit the fatality of the Omicron variant.
If you have symptoms of Long Covid and want to discuss a treatment plan, book an appointment with one of our leading GPs today. Alternatively, thoughts of another lockdown and isolation is worrying you, speak to our expert Mental Health and Mindfulness team to help guide you through this difficult time.
UK Health Security Agency. (2021). Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK, UK Summary. GOV.UK, coronavirus.data.gov.uk/
UK Health Security Agency. (2021). SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern and Variants Under Investigation in England. Technical Briefing 31. assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1040076/Technical_Briefing_31.pdf
World Health Organization Europe. (2021). What you need to know about the new Omicron COVID-19 Variant. World Health Organization, www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/news/news/2021/12/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-omicron-covid-19-variant
Ledford, H., Callaway, E. (2021). How bad is Omicron? What scientists know so far. Nature. www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03614-z
Haseltine, W.A. (2021). Understanding Omicron: Changes in the Spike Protein and Beyond And What They Portend Part 2. Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhaseltine/2021/12/10/omicron-the-sum-of-all-fears-part-2/?sh=10d4c522223a
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. (2021). Epidemiological update: Omicron variant of concern (VOC) - data as of 10 December 2021. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/news-events/epidemiological-update-omicron-data-10-december
Gallagher, J. (2021). Omicron: How worried should we be? BBC News, www.bbc.com/news/health-59418127