01 JAN 2022

COVID Variants and Omicron

World map showing the various COVID-19 mutation variants. Microscopic view of infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus cells appear around the border of the image.
Viruses constantly change through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus.

First detected in South Africa, the new coronavirus variant named Omicron has been detected in the United States and is now the most common variant in the country. Experts recommend taking measures to reduce the spread of infection, by completing the COVID vaccine series (including the booster), as the best way to slow the emergence of new variants.

Why do viruses mutate?

Viruses constantly change through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Some variants emerge and disappear while others persist, sometimes as a result of geographic separation across continents. NorthBay Healthcare Medical Director Seth Kaufman, M.D., explains: “All Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) viruses like COVID mutate over time, some more than others. For example, flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year."

Will treatments work against Omicron?

Scientists are trying to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 will work with Omicron. Based on the changed genetic make-up of mutation, some treatments will likely remain effective while others may be less effective.

Bottom Line: Vaccines are an effective tool

According to the Centers for Disease Control, vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID, slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants merging. Vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death. Scientists are currently investigating Omicron to determine how protected fully vaccinated people will be against infection, hospitalization and death.

“The bottom line, given what’s known and not known about immunity, is that people who have been infected with the virus should still get vaccinated.” recommends Dr. Kaufman.

To schedule your vaccine, visit MyTurn.Gov. NorthBay patients seeking a vaccine at their center for primary care can call (707) 646-5500.

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