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Omicron Variant Contains a “Greatest Hits” Collection of Mutations

Viral surveillance has once more proven its usefulness as researchers in South Africa alerted the world to the growing prevalence of Omicron—a new SARS-CoV-2 variant which, on November 26, was designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Variant of Concern.1 In the short time since it was first described in South Africa in November, Omicron has spread to at least 20 countries including the United States.2

Scientists first took notice of Omicron because viral surveillance data showed that it has a large number of mutations in the gene that encodes the virus’ spike protein. And alarmingly, many of these mutations have previously been associated with enhanced transmissibility, increased infectivity, and higher resistance to both vaccines and neutralizing immunotherapeutics. This collection of “greatest hits” mutations suggests that Omicron has the potential to spread more effectively than previous variants. However, more data will need to be gathered. For now, it remains to be seen if this variant will actually present with any of these concerning traits.