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Omicron & The End of COVID-19

Unfortunately, 2022 is not off to the start we had all hoped for. With COVID-19 cases spreading faster than ever thanks to the new variant Omicron, it feels like an uncertain and perilous time for all of us.


However, there is some good news about the spread of Omicron and what it means for the end of the pandemic. We'll explain it all in this blog.

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Omicron 101:


Omicron was first discovered in South Africa and Botswana in November and has now traveled throughout the world. In fact, Omicron is the fastest spreading COVID-19 variant yet. The variant was first seen in the United States in December of 2021.


Currently, it’s difficult to know just how many cases of Omicron there are in the United States. This is because there is no current approved test to determine the variant currently infecting an individual. However, there is a national network of labs throughout the country that use genome-sequencing tests to determine what variants are present in which community, creating a rough regional estimate. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 59% of current U.S. cases were Omicron.


Here’s what we currently know about Omicron:

  • Omicron spreads two to three times faster than Delta. Scientists still don’t exactly know why omicron is so good at spreading, but researchers think this has something to do with where omicron infects the body.

  • Several studies have found that vaccinations and a booster shot provide strong protection against Omicron. The vaccines will also reduce the severity of an omicron infection.

  • Omicron has 50 new mutations we have not seen in any previous COVID-19 variants. Of these 50 new mutations, 30 of those are to the spike protein that is used by the coronavirus to attach to human cells.

  • New research has found that the antibodies created by Omicron could help to protect against future infection by the Delta variant. However, the WHO's Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has confirmed that people who have previously been infected by the coronavirus could become more easily reinfected by Omicron.

  • Omicron produces less severe illness than earlier COVID-19 variants. This is evident in rates of cases and hospitalization. While cases have skyrocketed, hospitalization only increased marginally.

Why does Omicron produce less severe illness?


Back in December, researchers were hesitant to say that Omicron was in fact, less severe. Largely because the majority of early Omicron infections were seen in young people, who are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19. Moreover, a lot of these cases of Omicron were occurring in vaccinated people, who are also less likely to have a severe infection. These caveats made it difficult for researchers to officially claim that Omicron would not have the same mild effects on an older, unvaccinated person.


However, experiments on animals would be able to clear up such ambiguities, because identical animals can be tested. Recently, the first animal studies on Omicron have begun to emerge. The findings of these studies have demonstrated that, on average, Omicron causes milder symptoms, less lung damage, less weight loss, and a lower likelihood of death. These studies also discovered that Omicron does not infect the body in the same way previous variants did.


Several studies performed on mice and hamsters found that Omicron does much less harm to the lungs than previous variants. Instead, Omicron tends to stay in the upper airway, meaning the nose, throat, and windpipe. This obviously causes Omicron to do much less damage to the lungs, whereas previous variants have caused scarring and serious breathing problems.

One study found that while Omicron and previous variants have the same level of infection in the nose, Omicron levels in the lungs were 1/10 or less the level of the other variant. 

Other studies on human tissue have also demonstrated that, when placed in human lung tissue, Omicron grew much slower than Delta and other variants. The researchers did however find that when placed in the tissue of the upper chest, Omicron grew faster than other variants. This is likely due to the many mutations of Omicron, which have allowed it to flourish in the throat and nose. Thriving in the nose and throat is likely also what is allowing Omicron to be more transmissible than previous variants. This would make it easier for Omicron to be expelled from the body into the air and encounter new hosts, spreading faster than variants that tend to stay in the lungs.


What does this mean for the future of COVID-19?


For the COVID-19 pandemic to officially, truly end, it must first transition into an endemic. An endemic is a disease that is regularly found in a certain geographical area or among particular populations. An endemic is also constantly maintained at a baseline level, meaning it is both predictable and manageable. For example, Chickenpox, Polio, Ebola, and HIV are all examples of current or past endemics.


According to some infectious disease specialists, Omicron could actually help push the COVID-19 pandemic into its final, endemic stage. The theory goes like this: Because Omicron has a high rate of transmissibility among both unvaccinated and vaccinated people, survivors will emerge with a level of “natural immunity”, which will help protect against the next COVID-19 variant. Virologists speculate that Omicron will quickly infect millions in the US, but will help to boost levels of immunity closer to that of herd immunity. As we know, herd immunity will eventually cause a disease to die out.


Currently, this is currently just a ‘speculative’ theory. This theory is based on how other viruses act, but COVID-19 has proven to be quite unpredictable. However, it remains a very likely possibility that COVID-19 will eventually transform into another yearly, yet mild, wave, like the flu. But again, scientists are unsure when this when eventually occur.


Unfortunately, COVID-19 will likely never completely go away. Beyond vaccinations and the booster, the best thing you can do to prevent a serious infection from COVID-19 is to work towards your optimal health through biological and genomic testing, nutritional supplementation, and dietary and wellness plans.


To learn more, click here. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at thejohnsoncenter@gmail.com or call 276-235-3205.


The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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