COVID: Breaking down early data on Omicron variant

Yahoo Finance's Anjalee Khemlani details the information health officials have on the COVID-19 Omicron variant from South Africa and where known cases have been found.

Video Transcript

- We gotta talk about that omicron variant. And really a very fast-moving situation and still not an entirely understood one. Want to bring in on our Anjalee Khemlani, who covers health care and COVID developments for us. Anjalee, first of all, tell us what we know and what we don't know about this new variant.

ANJALEE KHAMLANI: Very important to settle first, Julie. Thank you. So let's start off with, first of all, the fact that this new variant, there is a lot that remains unknown. And so while we did see sort of that really rushed reaction late last week when first reports came out, it's important to remember that just the sequencing of the variant is not enough to know the details about it.

So here's the breakdown. It was first detected in both South Africa and Botswana based on collections earlier this month. The origin of it is unknown. The mutations are what is concerning. Basically, scientists have been calling it, like, the Frankenstein of variations, which is what has been concerning, kind of like what we saw with the beta variant, that one that originated in South Africa, which initially did have some similar concerns of possible escaping of immune response.

So right now, transmissibility unknown, vaccine protection or even natural infection protection unclear as well as severity of disease from it. Some reports from South Africa have indicated that some of these patients do have milder symptoms and they are seeing milder cases, but again, nothing has been confirmed just yet. Scientists are working really hard right now, and we might get some more clarity within the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, we know that the vaccine makers-- in particular, Pfizer-BioNTech as well as Moderna-- are hard at work to try and figure out how quickly they can pivot and tweak that vaccine to respond to the changes that are detected in this and whether or not the current vaccine is going to be enough to protect against this new variant. So that's where we stand right now. We also know some travel bans have been put in place, particularly targeting South African countries. There's been some controversy over that, as we know, that the variant has been detected in many other countries, including in Europe as well as now as of this morning in Canada, just across the border.

So many experts have said that just because we have not detected the first case in the US does not mean that it is not here just yet. It is possibly here, and now that we're looking for it and we know what to look for, we'll hear shortly about that. Back to you.

- Anjalee, thank you so much. We'll be counting on you to keep us apprised of further developments as we learn more about this variant.

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