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Omicron Variant Continues to Concern Healthcare Professionals

Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll explains why Omicron is a variant of concern.

The latest variant of concern in the Covid-19 pandemic continues its rapid spread around the globe. A second case was detected in Alaska last week in a resident who had travelled Outside.

On the Covid Brief Thursday, Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll described why there is so much concern about the Omicron variant.

"What sets it apart from any other variant we've had or experienced so far has over 50 mutations and about 30 of those are with the spike protein, or that's the piece of the virus. That's mostly responsible for entering a human and then entering a human cell at which allows it to replicate and some of the take-homes there are, its transmissibility or its ability to go from one person to the next is thought to be about two to three times that of Delta. So Delta was already highly transmissible, but Omicron is probably in in the ballpark of measles which is highly contagious," said Carroll.

He said the other worry health officials have is that the time it takes to get sick from Omicron might be as much as half as long as Delta, resulting in a rapid spread of the disease. Scientists have also found that it takes far less of the Omicron variant than the Delta variant to transmit the disease.

"The thought is currently with Omicron that it takes less time for Omicron to transfer from one person or the next, or in scientific language what we call inoculum. It takes less inoculum in order for Omicron to pass successfully from one person to the next. Now when that new person gets home Omicron," Carroll said. "It's also taking, we believe, less time for that person to become infectious and pass it on to the next person. So that's what's so concerning about this particular variant."

Carroll pointed out that as the number of infections rise, so too does the opportunity for more hospitalizations, and for more mutations to evolve.

"Public Health practitioners and other folks too, what's concerning here for us, as well as as we have an increase in cases or what we like to call a denominator, or all the total new cases with more cases, means exponentially more chances for another variant of concern to arise so we're keeping our eye on that pretty closely as well," he said.

The only upside to the news about Omicron is that its infections might not be as severe as Delta or other Covid variants.

"Anecdotally, what we're hearing from other countries is that severity might be less, but we're also seeing an increase in pediatric cases, which is also feeding an increase of pediatric hospitalizations," Carroll said. "So that's a concern."

The nation of Israel has announced that it will begin offering a second booster shot i response to Omicron. South Peninsula Hospital’s Derotha Ferraro said SPH isn’t currently discussing that option.

"Right now we're just happy to be able to offer all three of the vaccines as well as boosters and folks 18 and over can mix and match for their booster as well. So happy that we're able to provide such a variety right here right now," she said.

"I saw something the other day where the FDA is now preferring the mRNA vaccines the Pfizer and the Moderna over the Johnson and Johnson does SPH have any plans along those lines, offering Johnson and Johnson or preferring recommending an mRNA?" Barrett asked.

"We discussed that on Tuesday when that announcement got made and will be reviewing it on the bottom line is that it's still Available at this at this time. It is certainly shown statistically that a booster if you do Jansen your booster is even more important, but at the moment we're still offering that," she said.

South Peninsula Hospital’s Bartlett Street Covid clinic has at-home Covid-19 tests available free of charge.

Jay Barrett, KBBI's new News Director should be a familiar voice to our listeners. He's been contributing to Kenai Peninsula news for the last three years out of KDLL Kenai, and was the voice of The Alaska Fisheries Report from KMXT for 12 years. Jay worked for KBBI about 20 years ago as the Central Peninsula Reporter at KDLL.