COVID-19: Experts worried about the next Omicron as more get infected

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Omicron’s spread has been so extensive that there are few families that haven’t been touched by it at all — and for some families, that means worrying about their children.

In the Toronto area, Sarah Bankuti watched as her newborn baby Aviv spent Saturday in hospital suffering with COVID-19.

“Very scary because my daughter, she’s 10 weeks old,” she told CTV News. “So she had a fever and she, all yesterday, was just non-stop throwing up.”

Although the baby is home now, she’s still quite ill.

The Bankuti family has taken every precaution during the pandemic as their three-year-old daughter Alice has a brain tumour and is undergoing chemotherapy.

Even though the parents are both vaccinated, COVID-19 crept into the family anyways, infecting everyone in the process.

“That’s why COVID is so scary,” Bankuti said. “You don’t know how it’s going to affect people at all, but especially for our children, we just don’t know. For the past 48 hours, we’ve been so worried.”

She added that they family hasn’t been able to sleep while worrying about their children.

“We don’t know what the full side effects are of this,” she said. “It’s new still.”

Doctors do know just how transmissible Omicron is, with its whirlwind advance around the globe and scientists worry Omicron won’t be the last version of the virus.

“More and more people are getting infected,” Leonardo Martinez, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health, told CTV News. “The more people that get infected, the more chances there are for new mutations to occur, and that’s how new variants come.”

The World Health Organization reported a record 15 million new COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 3-9, a 55-per-cent increase from the previous week.

“Those mutations, one change, two changes, doesn’t really matter, doesn’t take hold, sometimes it does, and that’s where we go from a variant of interest to a variant of concern,” said Cynthia Carr, founder and epidemiologist with EPI research incorporated in Winnipeg.

Small changes may bring the pandemic to an endemic phase, according to Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease physician with the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

“The thing that we’re afraid of is the big changes that would produce a new variant with a new Greek letter,” he said.

A new variant may evade immunity better than Omicron, however, and scientists stress the importance of vaccines to reduce hospitalization, death and emerging new variants.

“Mutations are more common in severe and long-lasting COVID infections,” Martinez said. “Therefore, because vaccines prevent severe infections they can also prevent proliferation of new variants.”

All while hopefully creating a circle of protection around those too young to be vaccinated.

“Those would actually protect the people who were unvaccinated because the virus can’t get at them because they’re surrounded by a whole group of people, in which, infection, and or transmission after being infected is remarkably reduced by the vaccine,” Evans said.

Vaccination rates are fairly high in Canada, but the World Health Organization continues to stress the importance of global vaccine coverage.

Although wealthy countries have been able to acquire an abundance of vaccines, it’s a different story for many other regions. Ninety countries did not reach the target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations by the end of last year, and 36 of those countries have not yet vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations. 

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones

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