MSDH’s Dr. Dobbs shared BBC report on the new Omicron variant. No reports of variant in state, per MSDH.

On November 26th, the World Health Organization designated the Omicron variant of a variant of concern on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

Today, President Joe Biden provided an update about the new variant and the U.S. response.

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is gathering for a special session from November 29th to December 1st. The WHA normally meets each May, but this special session is the second in the history of the WHA. The Assembly is discussing the consideration of a new global treaty covering pandemics.

“Outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics are a fact of nature, and a recurring feature of recorded history, from the Plague of Athens in 430 BCE, to the Black Death, the 1918 influenza pandemic, and now COVID-19,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The emergence of the highly-mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is.”

Over the weekend, President Biden met with his Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and members of his White House COVID Response Team to discuss the Omicron variant.

Dr. Fauci informed the President that it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant. However, Fauci said that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases.

“As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” President Biden stated on social media. “As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises. For now the best way to strengthen your protection if you’re already vaccinated is to get a booster shot, immediately. For those not yet fully vaccinated: get vaccinated today.”

The President remarked that the U.S. has donated more vaccines world-wide than every other country combined and it is time that other countries “match our speed and generosity.”

WHO is coordinating with researchers around the world to better understand Omicron. Studies currently underway, or soon to be, include assessments of transmissibility, severity of infection (including symptoms), performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and effectiveness of treatments.

In a statement, the WHO noted that more information will emerge in the coming days and weeks. WHO’s TAG-VE said that they will continue to monitor and evaluate the data as it becomes available and assess how mutations in Omicron alter the behavior of the virus.

Here in Mississippi, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs shared a BBC report on Saturday that provided an overview of the new Omicron variant. That report said the level of mutation seen in this COVID variant has “most likely come from a single patient who was unable to beat the virus.”

“But the concern is this virus is now radically different to the original that emerged in Wuhan, China. That means vaccines, which were designed using the original strain, may not be as effective,” the BBC reported.

A spokesperson for MSDH says they have not identified any cases of the new Omicron variant in the state.

“The Mississippi State Department of Health is aware of this new variant and is conducting surveillance through its public health laboratory. We have not identified any cases of Omicron in Mississippi,” said Liz Sharlot, Director of Communications for the Mississippi State Department of Health. “For now, we will monitor transmission of the variant and vaccine effectiveness. Now is the time to get vaccinated, get your booster and continue to wear masks.”