What is the Omicron Variant and How Can You Protect Yourself?



Since the pandemic started, one of the biggest challenges has been keeping up with the variants. Researchers—such as the experts at MAKO Medical Laboratories—have been at the forefront of this battle from day one. As the virus has adapted, it has posed a larger risk for the global population. While individuals and organizations are continually testing taking measures to protect themselves, understanding the new mutations is key. Back in November last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified variant B.1.1.529, or Omicron, as a “variant of concern”. The scientists suggested that there may be evidence of an increased risk of reinfection when compared to other variants. However, they also stated that the evidence here is limited. For that reason, the experts have continued to monitor the situation and the spread of Omicron over the last two months. MAKO Medical Laboratories Identifies New Variants Back in 2020, when the first cases of COVID-19 were coming to light, me and my team at MAKO Medical Laboratories made a decision. It was then that the leading healthcare company changed tack and began offering coronavirus testing and research services. To facilitate this new chapter, the business needed to expand. In the space of a year, MAKO Medical Laboratories increased its staff to more than 1,000 employees. Fast-forward to 2021, and MAKO Medical Laboratories formed a comprehensive partnership with the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC). The aim was to provide next-gen sequencing for the COVID-19 variants. Since the start of last year, our experts at MAKO Medical Laboratories sequenced more than 2,500 samples per week. Those samples included tests from more than 40 states across the United States. It’s thanks to these efforts that the team identified B.1.1.7, B.1.351, B.1.429, B.1.617.2 and B.1.1.529 variants of COVID-19. “From the outset of the pandemic, our MAKO Medical team has worked hard to establish a cutting-edge COVID-19 testing and sequencing process that would detect and distinguish variants of concern ahead of the curve,” said Josh Arant, Chief Operating Officer, MAKO Medical. “We hope our ability to expeditiously detect the Omicron variant will aid public health authorities in controlling the spread of the virus. We will continue to work closely with the CDC to monitor any additional emergence of the variant.” It doesn’t end there. We also partnered with a leading life sciences business, Thermo Fisher Scientific. That allows us to utilize high-capacity sequencing platforms to provide a rich source of data on the countless variants. In addition, the partners confirmed that both the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit and TaqPath COVID-19 CE-IVD RT-PCR Kit are not impacted by Omicron. That meant that we could continue to rely on accurate test results from these kits throughout the pandemic. “The qPCR assay our MAKO Medical team deploys checks for all three targets in a COVID-19 positive test result, the N gene, S gene, and ORF1ab,” continued Josh Arant. “This is important because unlike the delta variant, which produces a signal for all three targets, early indication shows that the omicron variant is unique in that it will only produce a signal for the N gene and the ORF1ab gene. The TaqPath assay can be used as a proxy for the Omicron variant.” How to Protect Yourself from Omicron Needless to say, with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading fast, many individuals are concerned about how to protect themselves. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently working with a number of researchers around the globe. These efforts aim to help them better understand the new variant and, in turn, offer advice on how to stay safe. In the meantime, there are some simple steps everyone can take to lower their risk factor: Continue to Social Distance While the advice on social distancing varies based on where you live, you should still be vigilant. Ensuring that you don’t mix in large groups and give people physical space in public places could have a huge impact here. Of course, it is currently unclear whether the latest variant is more transmissible from person-to-person but it pays to be safe. Wear a Mask (If You Can) If you are able to wear a mask in public, it is worth doing so. Research from the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America suggests that this small change can lower the rates of transmission. Make it a habit and ensure you protect people around you. Test If You Have Symptoms As we have already mentioned, PCR tests can be triggered by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. That is positive news. Should you notice that you have any potential virus symptoms, it’s a smart move to take a test. Taking this measure means that you will understand whether you have the virus, in which case you can go into self-isolation. The Takeaway! By their very nature, viruses will always mutate over time. The latest variant of COVID-19 may be cause for concern and scientists are still researching its potency. Despite this fact, there are plenty of ways that you can protect yourself and the greater community. About MAKO Medical Laboratories Supported by an expert team of nationally-recognized doctors and PhDs, MAKO Medical Laboratories specializes in methodology development and pathological services. The game-changing testing company and labs prioritize patients by offering transparency. Started in 2014 by Chad Price, Adam Price, and Josh Arant, it aims to disrupt the sector. Additionally, MAKO Medical offers support to veterans. The company combines a wealth of new technology including robotics, app platforms, and cloud-based tech. In response to the pandemic, the laboratories have adapted their services to offer accurate testing. Chad Price is the founder of Mako Medical and MakoRx. Co founder of Bridegenie and Element service group. Founding member of a Raleigh based investment/ Real estate fund. Former CMO for Cary Reconstruction.