Omicron: A Beginning Understanding?

Key Points

  • In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss Omicron and what is beginning to be understood. Read more below.
  • The CDC is currently recommending Americans avoid travel to France, Jordan, and Portugal as these countries have seen spikes in COVID-19 cases (The Hill). Additionally, the CDC has added other destinations to Level 4 travel risk including Andorra, Cyprus, Liechtenstein, and Tanzania to the list. This is added to other “very high” risk travel places, including: Barbados, Cayman Islands, Malaysia, Singapore, and Turkey. (CNN)
  • For those traveling into the U.S., stricter requirements are now being enforced including providing “proof of a negative coronavirus test taken no more than a day before [one’s] flight.” (NYT)
  • As we all come together for the holidays, the CDC is increasing its push for at-home testing ahead of indoor gatherings. (ABC New York)
  • Regarding the Omicron Variant:
    • Anthony Fauci says that current, though preliminary, information is encouraging regarding the omicron variant, including that “Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly” and that the variant “does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.” (AP News).
    • In the U.S., the Delta variant remains dominant (AP News 2), but the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 17 states (CIDRAP).
    • The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control has provided an epidemiological update of the Omicron variant in Europe; “a total of 212 confirmed cases” have been identified in the EU/EEA.
    • As there is increasing conversation about molnupiravir, there is increasing hope that upcoming COVID-19 pills may offer hope for the forthcoming Omicron variant. Molnupiravir was developed through Merck; and Pfizer is developing an antiviral pill that has demonstrated 85% efficacy “when taken within five days of the start of symptoms.” (NYT)
    • Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist discusses a potential concern of the Omicron variant in that, while cases may be easily diagnosed and treated, there is increasing evidence that reinfection may be likely. In fact, their observed ratio of infections to reinfections are about 2.4. What might this mean? Perhaps natural past infection is not as protective. Similarly, while outbreak cases have been identified, all this is based on preliminary evidence. (Video from CNN)
  • On Vaccines:
    • New York City will become the first U.S. city to mandate vaccinations for private companies. However, the incoming mayor has stated that it may not be enforced. (CBS New York)
    • A recently published study in The Lancet has found that “most COVID vaccines will work as boosters.” Read the New York Times report here.
    • A UK study tested vaccine combinations (including mixing Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines with Moderna) on over 1,000 individuals. The study found that those who had a mix of vaccines “had a better immune response when they receive a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech shots followed by Moderna nine weeks later.” Read SCMP’s summary or see the News Release from the UK research. The findings are similar to those of other previous studies.
  • Recent research has found that, “Blood pressure control worsened in both men and women with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States in 2020.” As reported in The American Heart Association citing Dr. Luke Laffin, the co-director of Cleveland Clinic, “At the start of the pandemic, most people were not taking good care of themselves. Increases in blood pressure were likely related to changes in eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, less physical activity, decreased medication adherence, more emotional stress and poor sleep.” In fact, “Higher increases in blood pressure measures were seen among women […] older participants, […] and younger participants.” Resulting from this study, researchers also stress that it is imperative that we also be “mindful of chronic health conditions [including] blood pressure and [other] chronic medical conditions.” Read it on CIDRAP here.
  • Although China continues to push for zero-COVID and is now encouraging all younger individuals to be inoculated, calling them “little inoculated warriors” (through a recent campaign), there is starting to be some push-back, primarily from parents. (NYT)
  • Fun fact of the day: “omicron” is among 2021’s most mispronounced words (AP News).



  • This week, the CDC reports that “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low, but the number of influenza virus detections reported by clinical and public health laboratories and the percent of patient visits for influenza-like illness has increased in recent weeks.” Additionally (and of concern), “the percent of outpatient visits for respiratory illness has trended upward.” In the U.S., it seems that influenza A is the majority-identified influenza virus.
  • Although it was thought that the Yamagata lineage of Influenza B may have been eradicated with COVID (discussed a few weeks ago), it seems that is no longer the case, as there have been a few influenza B Yamagata lineage cases in the U.S.
  • New Mexico continues to experience high/very high influenza activity while Georgia, and now also Mississippi’s, influenza activities are at moderate activity.
  • Around the world, the WHO reports that “[g]lobally influenza activity remains low but in comparison with last year a slight increase in influenza detections is noticed.” As in the previous weeks, influenza B viruses remain predominant.
  • According to Healthline, flu activity is approximately 192 percent higher than it was this time last year, but still generally low compared with pre-pandemic flu seasons. Certain regions have seen more flu activity in recent weeks, with Southern regions seeing the greatest flu activity.



Public Health:

  • A recent report from the UN has found that COVID contributed to 69,000 malaria deaths, “though ‘doomsday scenario’ averted.” Due to COVID-19, “moderate disruptions in the delivery of malaria services contributed to 14 million malaria cases and 69,000 deaths.” Of this, 2/3 of additional malaria deaths “were due to disruptions in the provision of malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment during the pandemic.”
  • The Salmonella Thompson outbreak in seafood has now come to a conclusion (FSN).
  • As reported by Food Safety News, the Codex Alimentarius Commission has met to discuss next steps and adopt guidelines for “monitoring and surveillance of foodborne antimicrobial resistance and on front-of-pack nutrition labeling to help consumers understand the nutritional value of food.” Additionally, “Standards were adopted for dried oregano, dried or dehydrated ginger, cloves, and dried basil. Plans for new work included developing texts for small cardamom, turmeric and spices in the form of dried fruits and berries. Efforts are ongoing on a standard for saffron, dried chili peppers and paprika.”
  • According to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, the “‘disastrous’ way in which plastic is used in farming across the world is threatening food safety and potentially human health” in that its contribution to microplastic pollution in soils and oceans is incredibly high. In fact, there is “‘irrefutable’ evidence of the need for better management of the millions of tonnes of plastics used in the food and farming system each year” as much of the single-use plastic is “buried, burned or lost after use.” To this end, there is also an increasing demand for agricultural plastics. Read the news report on Guardian or see the UN report here.

Recommendations for Industry

Omicron: A Beginning Understanding?

Within the US, Omicron has been detected in at least 17 states, with expectations that this will continue to increase due to its seemingly high transmissibility. Additionally, there is, as yet, no data proving the protection, or lack thereof, of the vaccines or prior infection. As noted by UC Davis Health, “Since the Omicron variant is so new, health experts do not have a clear idea how effective the vaccines will be.” There is a potential that they might not be as effective, however “the more antibodies a person has, the more protected they will be.”

There continue to be many unknowns with the COVID-19 Omicron variant, but we’re beginning to see some epidemiological updates. One of these, provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, provides the following data, based on 212 confirmed cases in 18 countries in the European Union and European Economic Area (EU/EEA):

  • The majority of confirmed cases are linked to cases with a history of travel to African countries.
  • However, several EU/EEA countries detected cases are not linked to areas where Omicron community transmission is documented/presumed, indicating that community transmission could be ongoing in these countries. 
  • At this point, all cases for which severity is known were either asymptomatic or mild, and no deaths have been reported.
  • Countries and territories outside of the EU/EEA have reported 693 confirmed cases. 

From all this, TAG continues to recommend that businesses continue to implement all protections of wellness checks, mask wearing, distancing, and – likely most importantly – having workers stay home if they are ill.

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