Omicron: A Concern for Unvaccinated Individuals

Published On: January 18, 2022 08:13 AM NPT By: Sandeep Thapa

The highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant causes less severe disease than the Delta strain but it remains a "dangerous virus", particularly for those who are unvaccinated, according to the head of the WHO.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has impacted negatively the world's population, devastating approximately 6 million people and identifying itself as the most serious global health catastrophe since the 1918 influenza pandemic. The virus has continued to strike destruction since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, with many nations experiencing numerous waves of outbreaks.

Viruses-related pandemics are frequently characterized by different mutational levels that lead to specific variants (multiple viral strains) emergence. By this time, a continuously enriched spectrum of SARS-CoV-2 genomic variants has been detected and categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) using the Greek alphabet (Alpha to Omicron) discriminating them also as variants of interest and variants of concern. The first known confirmed Omicron variant infection was reported from a specimen collected on November 9, according to the WHO which has called Omicron a “variant of concern”, warning that the global risks posed by it are “very high”. Likewise, this new variant is possibly associated with high transmissibility, resulting in higher infectivity and, most likely, increased re-infection rates. Its impact on morbidity and mortality is still being studied. The Delta variant, which is now the most common one globally, is also known for its strong infectivity.

According to the Ministry of Health and Population, the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 type has been rapidly spreading in Nepal since it was first reported in January 2022. Currently, data on the severity of the disease caused by the Omicron variant compared with the Delta variant is limited.

The highly infectious Omicron coronavirus variant causes less severe disease than the Delta strain but it remains a "dangerous virus", particularly for those who are unvaccinated, according to the head of the WHO. Speaking at a news briefing, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said more than 90 countries were yet to meet the target of vaccinating 40% of their populations and more than 85% of people in Africa were yet to receive a single dose. "We mustn't allow this virus a free ride or wave the white flag, especially when so many people around the globe remain unvaccinated," he added. "The Omicron variation, which is quickly replacing Delta in practically all nations," Tedros added, "is generating this huge spike in infections." He said the majority of people hospitalized around the world with COVID-19 were unvaccinated and that if the transmission was not curtailed there was a greater risk of another variant emerging that could be even more transmissible, and more deadly than Omicron.

Amid the rise of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, health experts warned that this variant may lead children to witness more problems as compared to the Delta variant. According to experts, the Omicron variant can be more lethal for children as this variant primarily affects the upper respiratory tract and children have higher respiratory rates than adults making them more susceptible to agents in the air. According to a survey, "Children's respiratory tract is smaller than adults', and this novel variety is primarily targeting the upper respiratory tract among infected individuals." The experts said that the symptoms of Omicron in kids are majorly similar to adults like sore throat, mild fever, fatigue, etc. "We should be more prepared for our children's safety this time. The symptoms present in children are not much different from adults, which includes, cough and cold, fever, etc.," Parents should encourage their children to stay at home as much as possible, take all COVID-19-related precautions, and maintain their diet to help them fight the disease. However, while case numbers are rising, hospitalizations are not increasing at the same rate, leading the scientists to believe that the risk of hospitalization from omicron may be lower than delta or earlier variants.

Initially, early in the pandemic, the understanding of COVID-19 and its therapeutic management was limited, creating an urgency to mitigate this new viral illness with experimental therapies and drug repurposing. Since then, due to the intense efforts of clinical researchers globally, significant progress has been made, which has led to a better understanding of not only COVID-19 and its management but also has resulted in the development of novel therapeutics and vaccine development at an unprecedented speed.

Despite the unprecedented speed of vaccine development against the prevention of COVID-19 and robust global mass vaccination efforts including vaccine boosters, the emergence of these new SARS-CoV-2 variants threatens to overturn the significant progress made so far in limiting the spread of this viral illness.

Besides the importance of imposing public health and infection control measures to prevent or decrease the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the most crucial step to contain this global pandemic is by vaccination to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection in communities across the world. Although immunization rates have grown, there is an urgent need to update the vaccinations currently available. Enriching and re-programming them is an urgent progressive procedure, essential for blocking the virus’ activity, following all the precautionary measures to mitigate its problem. In addition, the prevention and treatment of this highly contagious respiratory virus need an interdisciplinary and interprofessional approach involving physicians from various specialties, nurses, pharmacists, public health experts, and government officials.


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