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Omicron variant

By Karen Kier, Pharmacist on behalf of the ONU HealthWise team

Omicron is the fifteenth letter in the Greek alphabet. In astronomy, omicron designates the fifteenth star in a constellation group. The constellation Andromeda includes the star Omicron Andromedae that is approximately 692 light-years from Earth.

In 1662, astronomer Johannes Hevelius renamed the star Mira because it acted like no other star.  Mira in Latin is translated as wonderful or astonishing. Mira is predicted to be visible at its maximum brightness again on July 16, 2022.

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a new COVID-19 variant as a variant of concern. Omicron is the name that has been assigned by WHO to this variant.  B.1.1.529 (Omicron) was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021 after the first case was discovered in Botswana on November 9. Several cases have been confirmed in other countries globally but originating from Africa. 

The reason for the WHO designation as a variant of concern has to do with the 30 amino acid changes in the RNA with 32 mutations on the spike protein. These mutations rise to the level of worldwide concern because of the ability to transmit faster, the potential to evade the individual’s immune system that can destroy or control the virus, and the mutation’s ability to resist the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

The mRNA vaccines concentrate on the spike protein portion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  So any mutation changes to the spike protein can alter the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.  Some of the reported cases of infections with the Omicron variant have been in fully vaccinated individuals, which has prompted the alert of the WHO. Dr. Eric Topol, former Cleveland Clinic physician, who serves as the Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute has been quoted to say that the Omicron variant is the most concerning since the Delta variant.  

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is in the family of coronaviruses and they are considered an RNA virus.  The RNA viruses are known to mutate so scientists were not surprised that the SARS-CoV-2 followed the same path. Once the virus evades the body then the ability to mutate can occur.  Once the virus enters the body, they attach to the cells and get inside the cells. The virus is then capable of replicating within the cell by making copies of the viral RNA. This viral RNA is how it spreads to new cells and repeats the process. If a mistake is made in the copying process, then the RNA changes. This change is what scientists refer to as a mutation. Once the mutated RNA is copied from cell to cell then it is available to infect others. Blocking the spread of the virus by not allowing infections is the best defense in stopping mutations. 

Our best hope in stopping mutations is protecting against infections with COVID-19 vaccines. The WHO has a COVID-19 vaccine tracker with twice weekly updates about the latest science including vaccines in the pipeline. The pipeline research is attempting to find the answer to providing a COVID-19 vaccine that covers mutated viruses and improves the effectiveness. Over 132 vaccines candidates are in the pipeline that are tracked by the WHO. Slowing the progression of mutations is critical in reducing the pandemic. 

Help us control the continued mutations of COVID-19 and talk to your health professional about the COVID-19 science. Feel free to call the ONU HealthWise Pharmacy. The ONU Drug and Health Information Center offers a service to job sites and community organizations to speak about the vaccines. 

ONU HealthWise is offering COVID-19 and flu vaccines Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 6 pm. Call the pharmacy for an appointment for other time slots. The ONU HealthWise pharmacy offers Moderna, Pfizer, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), as well as high-dose flu vaccine for those over the age of 65 years. Pediatric Pfizer vaccines (5 to 11-years) are available by appointment through the state Vaccine Management Solution (VMS) system.  Call the pharmacy at 419-772-3784 to get more information on getting vaccinated.

For COVID-19 vaccination at other locations, visit or call 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 888-720-7489).