Omicron variant: Act fast. Sequence everything. Vaccinate the world.

Exhibit 1: Key questions on the new Omicron variant.
  • Flatten the curve by following WHO/CDC best practices around hygiene, mask utilization, social distancing, better ventilation, and by vaccinating. This is something we can all act upon in our homes and our communities. We can be stewards of our health and others’. (I’m skeptical of the travel restrictions imposed on certain countries, as those restrictions are being implemented unevenly, and potentially in a discriminatory way).
  • Collect (and connect!) data early and often. This includes sequencing data (more on that below), but also clinical outcome cases to determine disease severity, population data to determine transmissibility, and linkage to prior vaccination data to determine breakthrough infection potential. As my colleagues and others have discussed before, this is not an easy task. Fragmentation issues in how data are collected today will continue to be a challenge as we attempt to learn about the biology and clinical outcome of disease in as near-real-time as possible. The benefits of expanded COVID-19 surveillance in the US are nicely covered here.
  • Share data and insights ASAP. While we should pay close attention to data quality and very strictly evaluate the insights we get from data, time is still our best weapon. Data should be shared with the world as soon as we have reliable insights. Data sharing and visibility impacts population health responses, but also world economics. The WHO recommends data is shared through the WHO global clinical platform for COVID-19 and generally, it’s been encouraging to see scientists collaborate across the world on the biology and epidemiology of this new variant. The researchers who first shared sequence data on this variant gave us the gift of time, because they collected and shared those data in record time.
A schematic of COVID 19 genes with identified mutations in the Omicron variant
Exhibit 2: Omicron mutational burden. Source: Coronavirus antiviral and resistance database, Stanford University.

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Vera Mucaj

Vera Mucaj

Passionate about R&D and healthcare data. Thoughts here are my own.