Other’s Opinion: Omicron variant spreading fear, teaching lessons

Published 5:36 pm Friday, December 3, 2021

The Free Press

The delta variant brought a rude wake-up call this summer about the insidious ability of SARS-CoV-2 to cause new problems. Now the omicron variant is raising fears of a more contagious and potentially more dangerous virus strain.

The World Health Organization wasted no time in designating omicron as a “variant of concern,” even though it will take weeks to understand how much of a risk it is. But it reportedly has a large number of mutations, appears to be more contagious than delta and has a higher potential to reinfect those who’ve already had COVID.

South Africa first reported the detection of omicron because it has a robust program for genomic sequencing, which tracks the genetic structure of the virus. The value of genomic sequencing is one lesson to take from this latest pandemic surprise.

South Africa was quick to alert the world to the new danger. But when the United States and other countries quickly banned travel to and from several African nations in response, South Africa thought it was being punished for being transparent. It raises the question of whether other countries will be reluctant to share information in the future.

As Americans and the rest of the world wait to learn more of the new variant, one thing remains certain: Getting vaccinated, including boosters, is the best tool available to help protect ourselves and slow the pandemic.

The arrival of omicron already has increased the number of people seeking the vaccine or getting their booster shots. But there are still far too many Americans who are not vaccinated, increasing the risk that COVID and its variants will continue to keep a foothold.

Vaccine makers already say they think current vaccines could be less effective against omicron. That’s disappointing but it also shows the value of scientists being better able to quickly develop new vaccines as needed.

It’s been said of COVID that no one is safe until everyone in the world is safe. That truism points to another big problem in the fight against COVID. While rich countries have stockpiles of vaccine and about a 60% vaccination rate, poor countries have less access to vaccines and as low as a 3% vaccination rate.

That vaccination gap can only be lessened by wealthier nations stepping up. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the smart thing to do to reduce the chance that more virulent variants will continue to surface.