What makes the Omicron variant different from Delta?


The South African doctor who alerted officials of the possibility of a new variant, later named omicron, said the “unusual but mild” symptoms were what caught her attention. (Photo: Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — According to the Virginia Department of Health, there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes with testing and learning more about the Omicron variant. Experts said the symptoms are similar to other COVID-19 variants, but there are some differences.

This follows the first case of the Omicron variant being identified in the Northwest region of Virginia this week. VDH said the person is an adult who has not traveled out of the country, but has traveled in the United States.

Dr. Brandy Darby is a Veterinary Epidemiologist and a member of the COVID-19 response and health information teams for the Virginia Department of Health.

“It’s one thing to know that the threat is in your backyard but when it starts to come knocking on your door, it’s a little different story,” said Darby. “Now that we know it’s here, we just want to be really diligent.”

Dr. Darby told 8News, one difference between Omicron and previous variants, is that once you’re exposed to the virus you are not immune.

She said the first hint that the variant was different was found in South Africa, when health officials noticed that natural immunity was not providing adequate protection.

“What’s different about Omicron is that a lot of these previous variants have had a couple of mutations that change it a little bit, but this particular variant has a number of mutations that are somewhat significant in that they change the spike protein,” said Darby. “It’s antigenically so much different than some of the previous variants that we’ve seen that natural infection probably isn’t providing the greatest level of protection against Omicron.”

Next, available evidence shows it spreads easier.

Dr. Darby told 8News, Omicron case numbers are on the rise in South Africa, but there isn’t enough cases in the U.S. or Virginia to be able to make direct comparisons about how easily it spreads person to person compared to other variants like the Delta variant.

However, symptoms are expected to be less severe.

“At least from these initial cases it does look like the illness with Omicron might be a little milder than what we’ve seen with some variants,” said Darby.

VDH hopes this holds true with continued analysis.

Health leaders believe the best protection against Omicron is to get vaccinated. Residents are recommended to wear a mask indoors, avoid crowds and wash their hands often.

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re not protected,” said Darby.

Also, they strongly encourage those 16 and up who are already vaccinated, to get a booster shot. If you received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, you’re eligible six months after your second dose. For the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you’re eligible two months after your first dose.

Click here to view a full list of offerings for COVID-19 vaccination opportunities.

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