What is the Omicron variant and where did it come from?
The Omicron variant is a highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus strain, first identified in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021. The first Omicron case in the United States was diagnosed in December 2021 and it is now the dominant strain in the U.S. According to a number of studies, the variant spreads more easily than other variants, including Delta.
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, they persist. Multiple variants of the virus that cause COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.
So far, studies suggest that if fully vaccinated (including having received a booster) the current authorized vaccines work to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated do occur. The recent emergence of Omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.