- Omicron is a new SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19 virus) variant, which has been identified in many countries. The W.H.O. and the U.S. government have designated Omicron as a variant of concern.
- CDC and FDA scientists are following the details of this new variant. They are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as they continue to monitor its path.
- Early reports are that the clinical signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from infection with the Omicron variant are similar to those of other variants and can also be absent (asymptomatic).
- The CDC recommends that we remain vigilant as we learn more about this new variant. We know what it takes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends vaccination, masking, improving ventilation, distancing, handwashing, and testing as strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19.
- Vaccination remains vital to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized in the United States (Pfizer, Moderna and J and J) are highly effective at preventing severe disease and death from the Delta variant, which is currently the dominant variant circulating in the U.S. CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 and older should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. In addition, CDC recommends all persons age 18 years and older receive a booster dose at the recommended interval.
How are variants classified by scientists?
- Variants Being Monitored (VBM)– Variants Being Monitored include variants which do not pose a significant and imminent risk to public health in the United States. There are several in the United States that continue to be monitored and characterized by federal agencies.
- Variant of Interest (VOI)– Variants of interest include variants which show evidence that they may be the cause of an increased proportion of cases or unique outbreak clusters. Currently, there are no SARS-CoV-2 variants that are designated as Variants of Interest in the United States.
- Variant of Concern (VOC)– Variants of concern are variants for which there is evidence of the variant being more transmissible, causing more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), and variants which may lead to the reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines. The Delta Variant and now the Omicron variants are VOCs in the United States.
- Variant of High Consequence (VOHC)– In addition to the attributes of a variant of concern, variants of high consequence may significantly reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments, lead to more severe clinical disease and lead to increased hospitalizations. Currently, there are no SARS-CoV-2 variants that rise to the level of high consequence in the United States.
When was Omicron discovered? Is it spreading? Has it been identified here in the US?
A new COVID-19 virus was first detected by scientists in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021. On November 26, 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. As of December 1, 2021, the Omicron variant had been detected in at least 20 countries in addition to those in Southern Africa, including the United States, Israel, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and several European countries. In some countries, such as Germany and Portugal, there is evidence of community transmission of Omicron. On November 30, 2021, the U.S. SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group (SIG), which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, classified the Omicron variant as a Variant of Concern.
What do we know about the Omicron variant so far?
Transmissibility of the Omicron variants
It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data from South Africa suggest that the multiple mutations to the receptor binding protein of the variant virus may cause the variant to lead to increased infections.
Severity of disease with the Omicron variants
It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta, due to the small number of cases currently. Preliminary information from South Africa indicates that there are no unusual symptoms associated with Omicron variant infection, and as with other variants, some patients are asymptomatic. Symptoms may be milder in persons who have been vaccinated or previously infected with SARS CoV-2. All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, particularly for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.
Effectiveness of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection: Preliminary evidence from South Africa suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (that is, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but information is limited. More information on this will become available in the coming days and weeks.
Effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron variants
WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on vaccines. Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death from the Delta variant, which is currently the dominant variant circulating in the U.S. CDC will provide updates as soon as more information is available about vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant.
Effectiveness of current tests for Omicron variants
CDC scientists are working with labs around the country to quickly identify the Omicron variant and to determine the impact of the variant, if any, on the various types of tests, including both PCR and rapid antigen detection tests.
Effectiveness of current treatments: There are no data available yet about the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies and antiviral therapies (e.g., molnupiravir) against the Omicron variant. At this time, CDC recommends providers continue to closely follow the NIH treatment guidelines for COVID-19
What should Healthcare providers do?
Early reports are that the clinical signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from infection with the Omicron variant are similar to those of other variants and may also be absent (asymptomatic). As CDC and public health officials work to identify cases of COVID-19 with the Omicron variant, it is important to take a travel history for all suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases.
It is important for health care providers to ask anyone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 disease about any recent international travel in the prior 14 days and notify the local health department so that this information acted upon with appropriate testing and follow up. If there is increased transmission within the United States over time, then this information may not be as important in the future. CDC recommends providers continue to closely follow the NIH treatment guidelines for COVID-19.
What does CDC recommend the public do?
- CDC recommends people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others.
- CDC recommends that everyone ages 2 years or older wear masks in public indoor places in areas of substantial or high transmission. Unvaccinated people should wear masks regardless of community transmission level. Masks are required in indoor areas of public transportation conveyances (e.g., buses, trains, planes, etc.) and U.S. transportation hubs whether you are vaccinated or not.
- CDC also recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated.
- CDC encourages a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for those who are eligible.
- Persons who have a close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should get tested 5-7 days after exposure (even if they are asymptomatic) and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative.
- Persons who develop symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested and stay home until their test result is negative; persons who have a positive test result should isolate at home for 10 days.
- Travelers to the U.S. should continue to follow CDC recommendations for traveling.
Social Media Posts
Talking points, like those above, are meant for just that — talking. They shouldn’t be used verbatim in print, email or social media.
Talking points are most effective when you use your own language to share the basic information found in said content, sharing messages in a style of speech that is both expected and best understood by your audiences. For social media, that means keeping it short, conversational and not trying to tackle too much information at once. Stick to the most important details, and don’t try to explain too much in a single post.
You wouldn’t read Shakespeare to a fifth-grade class; instead, you would talk about the general themes of Shakespeare’s stories and avoid the complicated language. We suggest a similar approach to using critical vaccine information on social media.
Twitter (280 characters)
CDC recommends vaccination, masking, improving ventilation, distancing, handwashing, and testing as strategies to slow the spread of #COVID19.
#Vaccines reduce your risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 and older should be fully vaccinated against #COVID19 as soon as possible.
CDC recommends all persons age 18 years and older receive a #boosterdose at the recommended interval. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html
#COVID19booster doses are recommended for individuals who are 18 years or older.
CDC recommends vaccination, masking, improving ventilation, distancing, handwashing, and testing as strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Vaccines reduce your risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.
CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 and older should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. CDC recommends all persons age 18 years and older receive a booster dose at the recommended interval. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html
COVID-19 booster doses are recommended for individuals who are 18 years or older.
This resource is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a Cooperative Agreement. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.