The World Health Organization named a new strain of the coronavirus, B.1.1.529, known as the Omicron variant, a variant of concern on Nov. 26, 2021. Since then, the Omicron variant has spread around the world. It is now the most common strain of the virus in the United States.
What does that mean for you? Here's what we know so far, based on information from WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other experts.
Q. What is the Omicron variant?
A. The Omicron variant is a new strain of the coronavirus. It was first detected in South Africa. The virus that causes COVID-19 mutates, leading to new strains. The Omicron variant appears to have more mutations than most other strains, including Delta. These mutations may change the virus's behavior.
Q. Is the Omicron variant more dangerous than other variants?
A. The Omicron variant causes similar symptoms as other strains of the virus. Scientists are working to learn more about Omicron infections. But many Omicron infections may be less severe than infections from earlier strains of the virus. That does not mean this variant is always mild. Omicron can still make people very sick. It can lead to hospitalization or even death.
Q. Is the Omicron variant resistant to vaccines?
A. COVID-19 vaccines are expected to be effective against the Omicron variant. They can prevent severe illness, hospitalization or death. But some people who are vaccinated will still get sick. The Omicron variant may be more likely than other variants to evade the immune response from vaccines or past infections. And people may be able to spread the Omicron variant even if they are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms. The good news: A booster shot can increase your protection.
Q. What can I do to protect myself from the Omicron variant?
A. You can reduce the risk of getting sick from any strain of the virus with a few simple steps:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Wear a mask when you are indoors or in a busy outdoor space.
- Stay at least six feet away from other people.
- Make sure to get your COVID-19 vaccine. If you're already vaccinated, get a booster shot.
Do you have questions about COVID-19? You can find more advice and information in our Coronavirus topic center.