What is the Omicron Strain of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is caused by a virus. As our bodies build up an immunity to protect us from infection and getting sick, the virus can change how it works to get around the human immune system.
Most of the time these changes are small and do not have a big impact on human health.
But sometimes the changes are big and there could be an increased risk to human health.
When there is a big change to a virus we give it a new name. In this case the original strain of COVID was called Alpha. Other big changes to the virus have been called Beta, Gamma and Delta.
Because there has been another big change this one has been called Omicron.
Is the Omicron Strain more infectious to humans than Delta?
Scientists working on COVID believe that the Omicron Strain is more infectious than the Delta strain because people are catching Omicron more quickly in countries where it has been found.
Is it more dangerous to human health than Delta?
Scientists have identified around 30 changes to the virus compared to the original strain. This increases the chance that it is more dangerous, but we don’t really know if this is the case yet.
However, it has made scientists a bit worried that Omicron could be better at getting around the body’s immune system.
Will current vaccines still work to protect us against Omicron?
We don’t know yet. Because of the large number of changes to the virus, scientists are concerned that it could make existing vaccines less effective.
But scientists have already started working on changes to the current vaccines to defend our bodies against this new strain if needed.
Should I hold off on getting vaccinated?
No. The current vaccines are effective against the Delta and other strains of the COVID virus.
It is very important that you get vaccinated if you have not been vaccinated already. The existing Delta Strain is still out there, so vaccination will boost your chances of not getting sick if you are infected.
How does this affect rural and remote Australians?
There is no evidence that the Omicron Strain is in rural or remote Australia, however it has been found in Australia. That means it is likely to get into rural and remote towns over time.
If the virus is more infectious, or results in more serious illness, then rural and remote people will be at greater risk. This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We will know more about the risks when scientists have looked at how this new Strain works more closely.
What do rural and remote people need to do until we know more?
Get vaccinated now if you have not yet received your first dose. Get your second dose when eligible, and your booster shot no more than 5-6 months after your second shot. If you are not sure, please give your local rural GP or pharmacist a call.
While we are waiting for further information from the scientists, rural and remote people should take extra precautions against infection.
You should always wear masks in enclosed spaces (shops etc) and continue to use sanitiser or wash your hands after you touch surfaces.
Avoid touching your nose or mouth after you have touched surfaces or someone else.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 get tested. The Omicron Strain can be picked up with existing tests. After testing, stay home until you get the all-clear.
Over the last few weeks some of us might have started to get a bit lazy with COVID-19 precautions.
We are strongly urging rural and remote people to go back to strictly observing COVID-19 safety measures until we better understand the risk of Omicron.
Do I need to be worried?
At this stage we know that there is a new strain that is different to previous strains. Until we know more there is no need to worry.
Our scientists are on the case and working hard to find out if the Omicron strain is going to be a problem.
Also, we now have lots of experience making new vaccines quickly if it does turn out to be a more infectious or dangerous strain.
As always, you can reduce your risk of infection by Omicron or Delta if you follow COVID-19 safety precautions and get vaccinated if you have not done so already.