Researchers believe ‘omicron’ variant will be in Utah, sooner or later

Nov 26, 2021, 6:40 PM | Updated: Nov 28, 2021, 3:55 pm
utah covid children...
Kimberly Desmond, a registered nurse, draws a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at Rose Park Elementary in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY – Health officials in Utah say they’re keeping a close eye on the new COVID variant (omicron variant) coming out of South Africa, but how worried should we be in the Beehive State?  Researchers say it’s likely going to come to Utah, the real question is “when?”

Omicron variant

Officials with the World Health Organization are classifying the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus in the same category as the highly contagious delta variant. And they believe the newest form of the virus is highly transmissible.  However, University of Utah Virologist Stephen Goldstein says scientists still have a lot of questions about omicron, especially since it’s so new.  For instance, they don’t know if the new variant is deadlier than the others.

“We don’t know anything about whether it causes more severe or less severe disease,” Goldstein said. ” There are early indications that it may be highly transmissible, although, it really is still too early to say.”

Goldstein says omicron is not an offshoot of the delta variant, so researchers are trying to learn as much as they can.  He believes the variant will, eventually, make its way to Utah, however, no one knows when. 

Should we cancel our Christmas plans?  Perhaps, not yet, although doctors still recommend masks, limiting crowd sizes and social distancing to limit any kind of viral spread.

“The travel restrictions that are being put in place may slow it down, a little.  I think Christmas is soon enough that I don’t think this variant is likely to have a huge impact on Christmas,” Goldstein said.

Current vaccines should provide ‘some protection’

Another question… will the current vaccines provide significant protection against the omicron variant?  Goldstein says it’s too soon to know that, also.  However, vaccines have been shown to decrease the severity of the illness, even if someone becomes infected.

“Getting a third dose of the vaccine is likely to provide an additional level of protection,” Goldstein said.  “So, this is a really good time, with Christmas in about a month, to go get a booster if you haven’t yet.  Or, start your vaccination series, if you haven’t done that.”

Vaccine manufacturers appear to be wasting no time in researching this new variant.  Goldstein says research began the very day news of omicron came out.

Goldstein said, “The companies that make vaccines are already starting to develop vaccines specifically against this variant.  We can expect to learn much more about this variant in the next week, or two.”


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