ATLANTA — The world is confronting a new coronavirus strain and officials have named it omicron. First detected in South Africa, leaders believe it may have a higher risk of reinfection than previous strains.
Medical experts tell 11Alive the omicron variant has more mutations than any other earlier detected strains which they said marks a major change in the evolution of the virus since the pandemic began. Officials also said the timing of omicron's emergence is especially concerning as holiday gatherings and travel increase.
“We saw a very high number of travelers yesterday here in the United States...and we’ll see more over the next the few days as we wind down this Thanksgiving holiday. That is troublesome with the emergence of a new strain that we know is spread by air," explained Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of the COVID Task Force with Piedmont Healthcare.
According to the World Health Organization, the new variant could be more transmissible or more resistant to the current vaccine due to its over 30 mutations.
“It has properties that could make it more evasive...that could make it more contagious…and could cause more severe disease," Dr. Morgan said.
Health leaders have been working around the clock to determine just how dangerous the new variant is, but WHO leaders said lab results are still a few weeks away.
“I don’t think anyone needs to be on edge. I don’t think anyone needs to hit the panic button. We know what to do. You know public health measures. Wear your mask, practice social distancing, and you need to get vaccinated," added Dr. Morgan.
According to the WHO, just under 100 cases of the new variant have been confirmed, largely among younger people in South African. Officials say the omicron variant has been identified in Europe and Eastern Asia. As of late Friday, national leaders said they didn't believe the variant had reached the U.S. yet.
On Friday, Pfizer said they were studying the efficacy of the companies' vaccine against the new strain. Both Johnson & Johnson and Moderna added that they had already been testing their vaccine against the new strain.