The World Health Organization has declared the new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa as a variant of concern and named it omicron.
WHO’s technical working group met on Friday to assess the new B.1.1.529 variant and decide whether it should be deemed a variant of concern or a variant of interest. Variant of concern is the more serious of the two designations. The delta variant that is dominating infections in Canada and around the world is a variant of concern.
WHO defines a variant of interest as one that shows genetic changes that in theory could give it the potential to affect transmissibility, severity of disease, or how well vaccines or treatments work on the virus and could cause significant community transmission in “multiple countries … to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.”
It becomes a variant of concern when there’s evidence that increased transmission or increased severity of disease may be happening, or that public health measures, vaccination or treatments may have decreased effectiveness against it.
Canadian health experts on Friday cautioned against alarm and said it would take time to assess the potential impact of the variant and that there’s no evidence that existing COVID-19 vaccines wouldn’t continue to be effective.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist in Toronto, urged Canadians to get vaccinated if they haven’t already.
In addition, he said the discovery of a new variant shows the importance of ensuring everyone in the world has access to the vaccine, because variants originate among unvaccinated people.