Omicron COVID-19 Variant Found in Europe Before Reaching South Africa

In Summary

Many people seemed to blame Africa for the origination and spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but scientists have confirmed cases in Europe dating back over a week ago.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus was spreading in Western Europe long before it reached South Africa, according to Dutch health officials, who reported cases as far back as November 19 and 23. 

South African scientists discovered the new strain and told global health authorities about it last week, thanks to their advanced COVID-19 screening program—but local politicians and scientists say they feel penalized for it, CBS News reported. 

RELATED: Vaccine Inequity Contributed to Emergence of Omicron COVID-19 Variant 

Many governments have implemented travel restrictions on travelers from southern African countries as the new variant spread to roughly 20 other countries, generating concern in Americans and beyond. 

Although it’s unknown whether the omicron strain causes more severe illness than other strains, the World Health Organization has warned that preliminary findings show it poses a global risk if the correct measures aren’t taken. 

President Joe Biden and his senior medical policy adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said the variant is a matter for caution rather than panic, per CBS. 

While addressing the nation on Tuesday, Fauci said even with its heightened ability to transmit itself, omicron’s spread can be slowed by vaccines, particularly boosters. He added that there is some cross-protection, especially against severe diseases, due to the number of antibodies produced by vaccines, even with variations like delta on the rise. 

Scientists and health experts are continuing to send citizens around the world, encouraging them to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others. 

RELATED: FDA Panel Recommends Johnson & Johnson COVID Booster Shot 

“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different,” said pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, per CBS. 

BNC chief medical editor Corey Hébert echoed that sentiment on Start Your Day, noting that the question isn’t whether or not the vaccine will protect individuals against omicron, but just how effective it will be—which remains a mystery at this time. 

Hébert said recent data from Israel does show; however, they have a high vaccination rate and have been able to isolate and see that the vaccines are holding up “pretty well” against the latest strain.  

“It’s a lot of folks out here saying that it’s impossible for the vaccine to work, and that is one thousand percent untrue,” he added. 

So far, confirmed cases of the omicron variant have been found in multiple countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Japan and France. 

RELATED: South Africa’s health care workers eager for first vaccines 

All of the main western vaccine manufacturers, as well as the creators of Russia’s homegrown Sputnik vaccine, have said they are already working on, or are ready to work on, modifying their formulas particularly for the new variant.

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