4 News Now Q&A: What do we know so far about the omicron variant?

Your Questions Answered

Researchers around the world are racing to understand omicron.

Although there is still a lot of uncertainty about almost every aspect of the variant, we do know more now than we did even a week ago.

We asked the experts three big questions that still remain:

1. Does omicron spread faster than earlier variants? Researchers say yes, in all likelihood. They point to what is happening in South Africa where the variant emerged. COVID cases are soaring there and researchers say data suggest omicron is spreading more quickly than delta.

A bigger question is why it is spreading so quickly, and there are two possible explanations: The first is that omicron is more contagious, and the second is known as immune evasion. That describes vaccinated people and people who were previously infected with COVID contract omicron more often than they contracted earlier versions of the virus. Many scientists believe both explanations are probably true to some extent.

2. Is omicron more severe than earlier variants? There is less consensus among the experts on this one, but most say probably not. Some think it is simply too early to tell whether an average person who gets infected with omicron becomes sicker than the average person who contracted an earlier variant.

But others say the early signs are clearer and more promising. They say if anything, omicron may be milder. Research out of South Africa shows hospitalizations and death rates have not soared even as cases have.

3. Are vaccinated people protected or not? Experts say that depends on the meaning of “protected.”

“My sense is if you’ve gotten two shots or been previously infected, you’ll probably end up having a much milder course. A booster, you’re going to do a much better job at even preventing getting infected,” Dean at the Brown University School of Public Health Dr. Ashish Jha said. “If you have nothing, no vaccine, not previously infected, I’m not sure it will be a milder disease for you.”

Do you have your own questions about omicron? Submit them here.