A South African virus expert says the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is more transmissible than its predecessors.
Salim Abdoo Karim and his epidemiologist team in Durban say they don't know yet as to whether this new form causes more serious illnesses.
The co-chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 also says scientists are still confirming vaccines' degree of protection against Omicron.
Karim commends the South African government for heavily investing in genomic infrastructure, which he says led to the early detection of Omicron, allowing the world to effectively respond.
Meanwhile, he and his team continue to urge everyone get vaccinated on grounds that studies show that vaccines will remain the “number-one weapon” against all Coronavirus variants, Omicron included.
"Individuals who have been infected naturally in the past, they’ve had COVID, and they haven’t taken the vaccine, they’re at probably a pretty high-risk of getting re-infected," Karim told VOA, adding "So, they should go and get a vaccine, quite quickly, because a vaccine, together with natural immunity, is very strong protecting against pretty much all the variants.”
Dr. Andrea Cox at John Hopkins School of Medicine said that coronavirus vaccines are developed by using a weakened virus to spark an immune response which in turn builds immunity.
“You don’t just mount an immune response to the adenovirus, but you will also mount the immune response to the protein that it encodes," she said. "That spiked protein is part of the virus that is causing COVID.” .
Coronavirus vaccines, according to Dr Alexandra James of the University of Missouri Health Systems, can cause short term side effects such as mild soreness, muscle pain and fatigue. “There are some reports of things like fever, some nausea, but all of these things can be supported at home,” she said, which can be cured by getting rest, drinking fluids, and taking nonprescription pain relievers.