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COVID-19’s New Variant: Omicron

  • Category: COVID-19
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COVID-19’s New Variant: Omicron

Just when one thought there might be a break in the COVID-19 pandemic, yet another variant emerges. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron as the newest variant of the virus—and one of concern.

Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System’s infectious disease expert, Dr. Mahendra Poudel, M.D. shares important information about this variant and how it may impact communities on a local level.

Where Did Omicron Originate?

The Omicron variant was first detected in the Gauteng province of South Africa. Now, it’s been found in many other countries in Europe, in Asia, as well as in Canada and now in the United States. In fact, the first reported case of the Omicron virus was in California.

“This particular variant is important, because it seems to have a lot of mutations, including its spike protein, which is the structure of the virus it uses to get inside the cells,” states Dr. Poudel. “Based on preliminary data, it seems to affect young and unvaccinated adults in South Africa, but there's a real concern it can escape vaccine immunity and cause reinfection in previously COVID-recovered patients.”

To listen to an in-depth conversation on this topic with Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System’s infectious disease expert, Dr. Mahendra Poudel, click here.

Should We Be Worried?

Dr. Poudel says it’s important to understand what happens when a virus mutates to a new variant. For example, it could become more virulent, meaning it can cause more serious infections. However, it could also become less virulent and thus less contagious.

“The virus is trying to survive so it can keep infecting people and live with humanity. These mutations are going to keep happening as long as the virus has the fuel to burn, meaning the vulnerable, unvaccinated, unprotected population. As the virus multiplies, that's when these mutations happen,” explains Dr. Poudel.

Omicron will most certainly not be the last variant to emerge. That said, Dr. Poudel cautions against a reaction of panic. Instead, he advises doing what you can—what’s in your control—to protect yourself, your friends, and your family members.

“If you're unvaccinated against COVID, you should get vaccinated. If you have been fully vaccinated, make sure you get your booster. Use masks and try not to gather in big crowds indoors.”

Bottom Line: Get Your Vaccine

As the virus has evolved, health systems such as Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS) have been able to adapt quickly and offer testing that matches new variant components. While there’s not a wealth of data on how Omicron impacts children, the good news is younger children are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I think the best thing parents can do is to make sure they're protected. Get vaccinated, get your boosters, and be vigilant about who your kids are around,” urges Dr. Poudel.

SVMH: Always By Your Side

COVID-19—in whatever form it takes—will likely be here for a while. But, it is controllable when community members take all available precautions. In the meantime, SVMH will keep the community apprised of any new developments.

“We're still in the midst of pandemic, but we have these awesome tools called vaccines that are very effective, very safe. Our healthcare facilities are prepared to take care of you, regardless of COVID or not. Although there is the pandemic going on, there are other non-COVID medical issues—including cancer, heart disease, lung disease—that we are prepared to address,” assures Dr. Poudel. “We have the resources and manpower to take care of every patient.”

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