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Arizona experts share how omicron became variant of concern

Posted at 3:07 PM, Nov 29, 2021

PHOENIX — The World Health Organization is now saying the new omicron variant poses a high global risk, because of its potential to spread more easily.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says, so far, there aren’t any positive cases of the omicron variant.

Though medical experts say that could change, and fast.

ABC15's Health Insider Dr. Shad Marvasti says there’s evidence that the omicron variant is more infectious than other variants, including delta.

“It’s definitely a matter of concern. It has potential for it to also make us sicker, resulting in worse illness and potentially higher rates of death,” said Dr. Marvasti with UArizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

He says the omicron variant has at least 30 mutations in the spike protein, compared to delta which only has about three.

Dr. Marvasti says, because of this, vaccines may not be as effective.

Though, he adds, Pfizer and Moderna are already testing to see if their vaccines work against omicron.

“And if it looks like they don’t, they’ve already committed that within 100 days after they make that discovery, they’re going to be able to make a vaccine update that would be able to stop it,” he added.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, to date, of the more than 3.8 million fully vaccinated people in Arizona, there have been more than 72,000 confirmed vaccine breakthrough cases. Of those cases, 546 have been deadly.

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The Arizona State Public Health Laboratory at ADHS and partner labs at TGen and ASU conduct whole genome sequencing on a subset of positive COVID-19 samples in Arizona. A sequencing dashboard is availablehere.

The CDC says those who aren't vaccinated are six times more likely to get COVID-19 than those who have been vaccinated, and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.

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“The best thing you can do is still to get vaccinated and to wear a mask,” said Dr. Marvasti.

ABC15’s Health Insider says getting tested before seeing loved ones over the holidays, and social distancing are also highly recommended.