1st confirmed U.S. Omicron case: What you need to know

Press Release

Getty Images 1356048283_0

Today, the first confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States was identified in California. The person diagnosed with Omicron was vaccinated against COVID-19, but did not receive a booster, traveled from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive for COVID-19 on November 29. 

In an MSNBC interview, Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, says it’s still unclear whether this new strain is more easily transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta. He says there are a few things to consider before we hit the panic button.

“With this new variant, it does have some immune escape properties, or at least it looks like it might. But that’s now what’s associated with high transmissibility. We’ve had other immune escape variants before that have not really taken off. That’s what I am looking out for, the level of transmissibility and whether or not the sharp rise in Omicron cases in South Africa is truly due to this variant. The Delta variant is the most transmissible we’ve seen. It takes a lot to outcompete Delta, so I’m not panicked at this moment.”

The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is the latest strain of the coronavirus to be designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization (WHO). Recent cases of the virus have been reported in Israel, Belgium, Hong Kong and in South Africa. 

While its still uncertain whether the Omicron variant is more easily transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, another big question that has been raised is whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants of COVID-19. In an interview with KHOU, Texas Children’s Pathologist-in-Chief Dr. James Versalovic said it’s still too early to know for sure.

“We don’t know yet. There is no evidence that it is causing more severe infections. I would emphasize that the initial reports from southern Africa, where most of these cases are now, show these infections  from this strain have been generally mild, but as we all know, this pandemic has been full of surprises.”

The WHO is working with researchers around the world to better understand Omicron and whether this variant will respond well to the current COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers and scientists at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine have been engaged in these efforts as well.

In an interview with CNN last week, Hotez said, “In terms of whether or not this variant is going to resist the immune response to our current vaccine, it’s possible but it’s unlikely to be totally resistant or maybe partially resistant just like other variants that we’ve seen like the beta and lambda variants. Those really never took off even though they had a lot of mutations. Our scientists at Texas Children’s are now looking into the immune response to our COVID-19 vaccines to see if it neutralizes the Omicron variant.”

While there are still many unknowns about the Omicron variant, experts say the best way we can protect ourselves and our children is to get vaccinated. Currently, children 5 years of age and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Texas Children’s. You can visit our website to schedule an appointment. 

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and Texas Children’s vaccination efforts, please visit Texas Children’s COVID-19 Vaccine Hub