Omicron (the Greek letter O) is the latest buzzword, and one that sounds both like an obituary and an apocalypse, which means more global panic in the midst of a pandemic that has already wreaked enough havoc in almost every corner of the planet. Immediately after it was reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared its concern about the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 and now thinks its global transmission will be high.
In a press release issued on November 26, WHO clarified that:
“Variant B.1.1.529 was first reported to WHO on November 24, 2021. The epidemiological situation in South Africa, the notifying country, has been characterized by the presence of three peaks of reported cases, the most recent being mainly due to the delta variant. In recent weeks, the number of infections has increased considerably, coinciding with the detection of variant B.1.1.529. The first known case of infection by this variant was confirmed in a sample taken on November 9, 2021.”
In other words, omicron has been present in South Africa for at least a month.
“The B.1.1.529 variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are of concern,” the organization says.
The statement adds that preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant and that, in addition, the number of cases of omicron appears to be increasing in almost all South African provinces: “(…) variant B.1.1.529 has been detected at a higher rate than those that have caused previous outbreaks, indicating that it may be growing more rapidly.”
This concern is unrelated to international media reports, which, being a rapidly infecting and transmitting variant, does not appear to have a direct impact on the collapse of public and private hospitals and medical institutions in South Africa, nor in other countries where the new variant has been detected.
Rather, it seems that in that African country the management of the pandemic is going through a better time than at the beginning of the year, when in fact the national health system was collapsed by the massive infection and transmission of the variants of concern at the time.
The fact that there are several visible mutations within this new variant probably means that it must have evolved two to three months ago, according to Professor Francois Balloux of the UCL Genetics Institute, based on studies into the behavior of the virus.
For now, some questions remain that will not be answered for another three to four weeks or so, as research continues:
How fast does this variant actually spread?
Is it more contagious?
Does it cause more severe disease?
Is it more deadly?
How well do current vaccines hold up?
What is being propagated in the media and social networks is just uncertainty. Some central capitalist governments are already taking measures in response to the report of Omicron in their respective countries and due to the connectivity between some African countries with North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania, while other governments have decided to first evaluate the behavior of the new variant before making hasty decisions.
Confirmed cases of Omicron variant of coronavirus:
- South Africa
- Hong Kong
- Czech Republic
— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) November 29, 2021
This is the case of Venezuela and Mexico. In the North American country, President Andrés López Obrador declared “that we should not be frightened” by the information that is spreading through the media “because there is a lot of uncertainty and unconfirmed information, there is no solid information if this variant is more dangerous than the other variants, there is no such thing”.
On the other hand, the Presidential Council Against Covid-19 and the National Scientific Council will evaluate the corresponding to take the appropriate measures, informed President Nicolás Maduro.
Vaccines, Cuba and more questions
With what is known about Omicron, the main vaccine producers in the world already have the prospect of generating an explicit vaccine for this variant.
Pfizer/BioNTech announced that it will have its respective doses ready in 100 days. For its part, the Gamaleya Institute, creator of Sputnik V, explained that it “has already proceeded to develop a new version of the Sputnik vaccine, adapted to the omicron variant”, which will be ready in 45 days.
However, the data collected so far indicate that the vaccines available in the world could have a positive effect in the case of infection with the omicron variant. While the potential risk of the new variant “of concern” should not be underestimated, according to the WHO, it is clear that the topic has been overstated, especially by the corporate media.
It is not by accident that both the Mexican and Venezuelan presidents called for calm and awaited the results of the corresponding evaluations and investigations. Especially taking into account that in the countries of the Global North, where they are retaking social quarantine measures and other rigid sanitary mechanisms, they are experiencing an unprecedented advance of techno-fascism (to read about vaccination passports in countries of central capitalism, we recommend this column by our researcher Eder Peña).
The issue also raises, for example, the tension between the anti-vaccine discourse, which is quite well accepted in the United States and Europe among several powerful political and economic groups, and the imposition of vaccines by Big Pharma, which many States are taking not as a health recommendation for the population but as coercion and a method of apartheid. This in a world in which the majority of vaccines, around 70%, are distributed among the richest countries, while those of the Global South count on the crumbs left by those of the North.
The alternative to this scenario of neoliberal totalitarianism is represented by countries that are fighting the pandemic with minimal resources and from an emancipatory point of view. This is the case of Cuba, which has produced two vaccines of high impact not only internally in the Greater Antilles but also on an international scale.
While there is an incessant circulation of information and propaganda about Omicron, it has gone unnoticed the fact that Nature magazine, an important scientific publication, published the results of a trial certifying the efficacy of the drugs against covid-19 developed by Cuba, highlighting that the island took a great step in Latin America by creating its own vaccines.
The text includes statements by Craig Laferrière, head of vaccine development at Novateur Ventures in Toronto, Canada, who explained that Cuban vaccines differ from messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, because they are protein-based and do not need to be kept at extremely low temperatures, which facilitates their distribution in remote areas.
Nature also highlighted the perseverance of the Finlay Institute and the other state biotechnology centers in Cuba, which from the beginning of the pandemic began to develop their own vaccines until at least one of them was effective.
This strategy yielded great results, as Soberana 02 achieved 90% efficacy against covid-19 and Abdala was more than 92% effective in phase III trials, with a sample of more than 48,000 participants.
The island has already requested WHO approval for emergency use and they emphasize that this is an important step to make them available worldwide and not limit their export only to Venezuela, Vietnam, Iran and Nicaragua.
On the other hand, last September, the scientific journal The Lancet published the results of a Phase 1 clinical trial of Soberana 02, where it states that the vaccine demonstrated safety and high levels of neutralizing antibodies in subjects between 19 and 59 years of age, convalescing from covid-19.
The acknowledgements by both publications could be a first step to accelerate international agreements between Cuba and the rest of the countries for one of the most effective drugs against the coronavirus, being the island one of the largest exporters of medical and medicinal assistance in the world, under the banners of solidarity and anti-capitalism.
Thus, we can be sure that not everything is bad news regarding the pandemic, since there is also reason to believe that better times are coming with countries like Cuba at the forefront of the scientific management of the pandemic. This is news that Big Pharma probably does not want us to know.
Translated by: Internationalist 360°