Researchers at Mayo Clinic and around the world continue to monitor the omicron variant and study how it behaves. Dr. Gregory Poland, 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.
Journalists: Soundbites are in the downloads at the end of the post: Please courtesy: "Gregory Poland, M.D./Infectious Diseases/Mayo Clinic."
"We're now touching on just about two years of this, we're now on our fifth variant of concern. 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," says Dr. Poland.
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. If the current numbers continue, about 32,000 Americans who are alive right now and potentially listening to us will be dead by the end of this year. And there's no reason for that to happen," says Dr. Poland.
"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."
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.
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.
Learn more about tracking COVID-19 and COVID-19 trends.