You’ve now heard about the omicron variant, named after a Greek letter like any other and yet one which certainly sounds more badass and otherworldly than all but one or two others in the Greek alphabet. In just days Omicron has put the whole world on alert, shaking equities markets and spurring a range of travel restrictions. If you’re interested in getting good and very up-to-date information on this emerging story, I have a Twitter list I host with a range of trustworthy experts and science journalists. You can see it here.
We don’t know most of the important information about Omicron. But here’s one important thing to remember if the news isn’t good. We can update mRNA vaccines very quickly. Think of the vaccine as a vehicle transporting a snippet of genetic code for duplication within your immune response. Scientists can take the snippet and tweak it to match part of the newly evolved version of the virus and pop it into the same vehicle. The vehicle has already cleared most of the regulatory and clinical trial tests. Pop the reworked DNA snippet in and you’re pretty much good to go.
How fast is ‘good to go’?
The original COVID vaccines took just under one year to develop and distribute for use – already development at unprecedented speed. A revised vaccine should take about one-quarter the time – two to three months. Scientists at Pfizer and Moderna have prepared plans which they believe will allow them to go from isolation of a new variant to shots in arms in 100 days.
I haven’t seen anyone who thinks Omicron will render current vaccines useless. The worry is that they’ll diminish that vaccine protection or cause more severe illness on its own. That would be bad news. But we won’t be back to square one.