The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is spreading more quickly than other viral variants, according to NPR.
The Omicron variant — with its dozens of mutations, including many affecting the viral spike protein — was first reported in late November by scientists in southern Africa and was quickly dubbed a "variant of concern." It has since been detected in 77 countries and is suspected to be in many more, the World Health Organization says.
"Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news briefing.
CNN adds that 0.4 percent of circulating virus in the US in early December was the Omicron strain, but that its prevalence increased to 2.9 percent by the following week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers. CNN notes that some regions like New York and New Jersey have higher portions of the Omicron variant in circulation.
Vaccines are also thought to be less effective against Omicron infection, but still protect against severe disease, particularly with a booster, CNBC says. "It's not vaccines instead of masks. It's not vaccines instead of distancing. It's not vaccines instead of ventilation or hand hygiene," Tedros added. "Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well."
He further cautioned, though, against wealthier nations hoarding vaccine doses for booster programs, instead of supplying vaccines to those most at risk, NPR adds.