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Researchers at Mayo Clinic and around the world continue to monitor the omicron variant and study how it behaves. Gregory Poland, M.D., head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, who has decades of experience in the field of infectious diseases, offers some insight into what the emergence of omicron tells us about the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and where it may be headed.
"We're now touching on just about two years of this, we're now on our fifth variant of concern," says Dr. Poland. "This is going to continue to happen until we can convince the public — and this is stark evidence of it, yet again — that until we wear masks indoors, until we are vaccinated and boosted, this is going to continue to happen."
The virus is doing exactly what experts predicted
The omicron variant has experts, such as Dr. Poland, concerned because of the number of mutations the virus has made from the original strain. While other variants, such as delta, had between 10 mutations in the Spike protein, omicron has more than 50 mutations, with 30 or so in the Spike protein.
"This isn't getting better. This is doing exactly what we predicted. This is becoming a virus that is changing substantially from the original Wuhan virus," says Dr. Poland.
A grave prediction
"One out of every 410 Americans has died of this disease — a disease that we can prevent with a 25-cent mask and a free vaccine," says Dr. Poland. "If the current numbers continue, about 32,000 Americans who are alive right now and will be dead by the end of this year. And there's no reason for that to happen.
Please wear a mask, please be boosted. Talk to your family and friends. This isn't about pharmaceutical profit making or anything else. As a physician, I take an oath, and I take it seriously, to try to prevent disease, to tell people, warn people why they need to treat a disease or what they need to do to take steps to prevent a disease. And COVID-19 is no different."
Read more about COVID-19:
- Why SARS-CoV-2 mutations come and go, and physicians' advice remains the same
- Mayo Clinic scientist explains genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2
- Omicron transmissibility and virulence: What do these terms mean?
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.