Experts peg Omicron as 'worst variant that we have come across'; here's what they know so far

Scientists say Omicron has 50 mutations. To put that into perspective, the highly transmissible Delta variant which has 19.

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ByLuz Pena via KGO logo
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Omicron is 'worst variant that we have come across,' experts say
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Scientists are rushing to learn more about the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, which they say has 50 mutations compared to Delta's 19.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Friday the World Health Organization declared Omicron a variant of concern.

"Based on the numbers and the types of mutations it looks like the worst variant that we have come across so far," Dr. Deepak Srivastava, President of the Gladstone Institutes.

It was first detected in South Africa in early November. Two weeks later, new cases have been identified in multiple places around the world including Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel.

"South Africa was having about 200 cases a day for many weeks. All of a sudden they began having 2,000 cases a day," said Dr. Srivastava.

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Dr. Deepak Srivastava, is the President of the Gladstone Institutes. His team has been leading some of the COVID-19 research in the Bay Area.

Luz Pena: "Do we have any idea of how this new variant emerged?"

Deepak Srivastava: "It's thought that maybe this arose in one person who might have been immune compromised. The virus could divide and replicate in that person and be suppressed a bit, but not enough to prevent it from mutating."

Today scientists with UCSF's Quantitative Biosciences Institute created a map to understand how to tackle these mutations. Omicron has 50 mutations. That's more than any other variant, including the highly transmissible Delta variant which has 19 mutations.

"We think that these other mutations, which we've been studying in the context of Alpha and Delta, are helping the virus after it gets into the cells. It's not allowing the immune system get turned on so it can fight of infection. These different sets of mutations that we have been studying separately have seemly come together in this particular variant," said Dr. Nevan Krogan, Director of Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF. The QBI lab is collaborating with labs across the globe on COVID-19 research.

RELATED: Omicron: New COVID-19 variant stokes world fears, triggers travel bans

To understand how transmissible this new variant really is experts say more data is needed. They are pointing to the next 2-3 weeks as crucial.

"It's very likely that no matter what we do it, it will spread to other countries. It may be that in the next few weeks we have to go backwards," said Dr. Srivastava.

Dr. Krogan believes we need to have a robust global vaccination plan.

"The vaccination strategy will be effective. The question is how effective against this particular variant? Another point to make is these anti-viral pills that are coming online. They are targeting parts of the virus that have not mutated in this particular variant. They should be just as effective against this new variant as the previous variants," said Dr. Krogan.