New COVID-19 variant has health experts concerned

There are more questions than answers regarding the new COVID-19 variant named Omicron.

MIAMI – There are more questions than answers regarding the new COVID-19 variant named Omicron.

It is causing global concern and travel restrictions.

One thing local health experts say the public can do right now is to make sure you’re vaccinated or if you’re due, get a booster.

Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Miami.

He says it’s still too soon to know exactly how the omicron variant will match up against current vaccines, but there is early evidence based on this and past variants that being vaccinated offers the best protection available right now.

“This is the thing that really works,” he said. “It may not be perfect but it’s the best we have.”

Dr. Jayaweera points to the low vaccination rate in South Africa, where Omicron was first discovered.

“South Africa has one of the lowest vaccinations, 26 percent, so that is clear evidence that if you do not vaccinate the world that we are going to get this over and over again,” he said.

FIU Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Aileen Marty called this the most alarming variant to date.

“This has a very high transmissibility,” she said.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava issued a statement late Monday, urging people to get vaccinated.

The director of the NIH Dr. Francis Collins says omicron has a record number of mutations, over 50, with experts most concerned about changes in the virus’ spike proteins.

“That’s what your antibodies have to work against in order to protect you against this virus,” said Dr. Collins. “So we worry that if the spike protein is of a different shape maybe the antibodies won’t stick quite as well.”

One hopeful sign is that vaccines have proven effective against past variants.

“Please go and get vaccinated, wear a mask wherever you can do social distancing if it’s possible and use common sense,” said Dr. Jayaweera.

About the Author:

Amy Viteri is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who joined Local 10 News in September 2015. She's currently an investigative reporter and enjoys uncovering issues facing South Florida communities. A native of the Washington, D.C., area, she's happy to be back in South Florida, where she earned a masters degree at the University of Miami.