Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. The new COVID-19 variants are being studied to understand if they spread more easily, impact the severity of illness, how the infection is treated and how effective COVID-19 vaccines are.
For example, the Omicron variant spreads more easily than the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Delta variant. Omicron infection generally causes less severe disease than infection with prior variants. Preliminary data suggest that Omicron may cause more mild disease, although some people may still have severe disease, need hospitalization, and could die from the infection with this variant. Even if only a small percentage of people with Omicron infection need hospitalization, the large volume of cases could overwhelm the healthcare system which is why it’s important to take steps to protect yourself.
COVID-19 vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging. This includes primary series, booster shots and additional doses for those who need them.