A vaccination record card and face mask on a table.

December 2, 2021

A new COVID-19 variant, omicron, has reached the USA’s horizon.

Hailing from South Africa, omicron already has reached 20 countries including Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Australia, Belgium and Israel.

The World Health Organization labels omicron a “cause for concern,” as it may be more contagious than other variants.

Still, scientists say not to panic.

Like many viruses, including flu, the coronavirus changes as it replicates. Versions that shift-change the most are more likely to infect people more quickly, as does the wily delta strain and now omicron. The latter, also called B.1.1.529, has mutated at least 50 times, an unusually large amount.

But so far, the latest strain has not been found to be lethal among the vaccinated. The unvaccinated and unmasked, however, risk dire symptoms, hospitalizations or death.

Most variants have virtually the same spike proteins of the original coronavirus, and vaccines have proven protective against them.

In a press conference Monday, President Joe Biden urged Americans to get inoculated, as scientists globally have suggested. The vaccinated are far less likely to have dire symptoms. Three out of four hospitalized with omicron in South Africa have been unvaccinated.

Along with other researchers, the CDC is racing to determine whether a vaccine update for omicron will be needed.

Most likely the vaccines already in America can create sufficient antibodies to combat omicron—as they have delta.

Pfizer-BioNTech SE and Moderna say they’re already working on stronger shots should new strains need them.

As with current vaccines, new ones will not contain the virus. You cannot catch coronavirus from the vaccines.

Typically, side effects are minimal. Soreness and redness at the injection site that lasts a day or so is most common. Fatigue or mild fever and stomachache also are possible—and are actually positive signs your body is battling perceived invaders.

For omicron, safety measures remain the same as against prior versions of COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2: Wear well-fitted masks while indoors in public, maintain social distance of 6 feet or more, and wash hands frequently.

Call your doctor—and isolate—if you have fever, chills, cough, fatigue, congestion, sore throat, headaches, body aches or trouble breathing.

The information in this article is accurate as of December 2, 2021. It was clinically reviewed by Binita Patel.

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