“This mutation is unlikely to be more malicious and … the existing vaccines will most likely continue to be effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths,” Goldman said in a Nov. 26 note. “We do not think that the new variant is sufficient reason to make major portfolio changes.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) named the Omicron strain, which was discovered in South Africa less than a week ago, as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26, sparking travel bans to several African nations. The WHO also explained why it disrupted its naming convention to skip naming the latest variant “Xi” in accordance with the Greek alphabet, after critics said the U.N. health agency was attempting to appease the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Gauteng, a city in South Africa, appears to be the Omicron epicenter for now. Goldman wrote that it “would monitor the situation in Gauteng closely over the next month” and that it doesn’t think “that the new variant is sufficient reason to make major portfolio changes.”
The WHO and top federal infectious diseases officials don’t yet know whether individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 will be susceptible to the Omicron variant, or whether common COVID-19 vaccines work against it. It’s also unclear if the variant causes more severe disease, although a top South African medical association doctor told news outlets that Omicron patients have had unusual but mild symptoms.
The variant, according to the WHO, has a large number of mutations compared to the Alpha and Delta strains. South African scientists have said it has an unusual combination of mutations on the spike protein that may make the virus capable of evading vaccines.
Early evidence, the WHO said in a statement, suggests that Omicron has a higher risk of reinfection compared to other variants such as the Delta or Alpha strains.
Starting Nov. 29, the United States will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
However, top COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci told outlets on Nov. 28 that the variant will “inevitably” come to the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Nov. 27 said no cases of the strain have been confirmed in the country so far.
Over the weekend, several European countries said their respective health agencies confirmed Omicron cases.
The Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said on Nov. 28 that the variant was found during the sequencing of the 61 positive CCP virus results. The agency said that the sequencing “had not been entirely completed” and added it was “possible that the new variant will be found in more test samples.”
Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.