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UAB doctor says new strain of virus has 50 mutations, questions remain about vaccine response

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – The World Health Organization said on Monday that the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 poses a “very high” global risk.

The United States has started restricting travel from South Africa, where the variant was first detected.

For all the discussion around COVID-19, the World Health Organization has only named five variants of concern since COVID-19 was first identified.

Dr Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UAB, described what is worrying researchers.

“This means it changes the ability of viruses to infect, cause serious disease or avoid some of the steps we take as a population to not be affected by it,” she said.

Marrazzo said the Omicron variant has 50 mutations, including several on the tips of the virus that attach to the lining of a person’s throat, nose and lungs. The concern is that this could potentially make it more infectious and – better able to resist vaccines developed so far.

The effort to understand the effects of Omicron is underway.

“Two ways we’ll know if the current vaccine protects against Omicron,” Marrazzo said. “One is lab studies where they’ll take antibodies that were generated in people in response to the vaccine and literally work with the virus, the omicron variant in the lab to see if those antibodies stop the virus in its tracks. If that happens, it is very, very reassuring. The next level of reassurance, of course, is to see what happens in the communities, if this variant spreads. “

Marrazzo said lab reports on the variant’s response to the vaccine should be available in eight to 10 days.

The holiday season has been called “the most wonderful time of the year”, but with COVID-19, there is a catch.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Marrazzo. “It’s cold in most of the United States or much of the United States, people are going back to their communities, their families, for vacations and vacations, so this is really a great opportunity for the virus to. taking advantage of us once again, that’s exactly what happened last year.

Marrazzo said people got bored hearing the same message, but said the best defense against the virus is to get vaccinated. For people who plan to gather for the holidays, the more fully immunized people are, the safer the gathering. She said people planning to travel for the holidays should invest in a good mask.

The Alabama Department of Public Health said Monday that there had been no identified cases of the Omicron variant in the United States.

Marrazzo said today, given that the variant has been found on four continents, including as far as Australia, it is reasonable to assume that it has reached the United States as well. She said the UAB lab would likely be among the first in the Southeast to identify the strain – if it’s found in Alabama – through molecular testing.


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