What You Need to Know About How the Omicron Variant Affects Pregnancy
- The latest COVID-19 Variant of Concern (VOC) is Omicron, which was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021.
- Scientists and doctors are still trying to establish how Omicron is different from previous variants.
- Pregnant individuals are advised to take extra precautions to protect themselves and their babies against Omicron.
As an expectant parent, it's perfectly natural to feel concerned about the health of your unborn child. In the midst of a global pandemic, those worries may ramp up a notch (or several). You're definitely not alone—it's totally normal to worry about COVID-19 during pregnancy.
The latest COVID-19 development is an unwelcome one—the rapid spread of a new variant, named Omicron. The Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first identified in India in late 2020 and spread rapidly throughout the world, remains the predominant SARS-CoV-2 variant. It is responsible for more than 99% of COVID-19 cases and causes an overwhelming increase in hospitalizations in some U.S. states, per CDC data as of December 16, 2021.1
But it’s the Omicron variant that’s truly under the spotlight at the moment. Let's break it down and set out exactly what you need to know about this variant if you or your loved one is pregnant.
What Is the Omicron Variant?
Omicron is the latest COVID-19 variant of concern. The first report of Omicron to the World Health Organization (WHO) was on November 24, 2021. The strain was detected in Botswana on November 11, 2021, and again in South Africa just three days later.2
The following week, the U.S. government SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group (SIG) classified Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VOC). This classification was based on the detection of cases attributed to Omicron in multiple countries and the transmission and replacement of the Delta variant in South Africa. The first confirmed case of Omicron in the U.S. was on December 1, 2021.3
While there's lots of speculation in the media about Omicron, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on their website, "We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it."4
How Dangerous Is the Omicron Variant?
Experts believe that the Omicron variant spreads more quickly and easily to others, even if the infected person is vaccinated or asymptomatic.
However, based on the data gathered so far, the Omicron variant appears to cause more mild symptoms than the Delta variant.5 “It is still not known whether the Omicron variant causes more severe disease in pregnant women compared to other COVID-19 variants,” says Sherry Ross, MD, OBGYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Right now, there’s no reason to suspect that the Omicron variant poses any greater risks to pregnant individuals than previous variants, says Charles Bailey, MD, medical director for infection prevention at Providence Mission Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County, California.
What Risks Do Pregnant Individuals Face?
Since COVID-19 first emerged in late 2019, scientists have been studying the effects of the virus and its variants on different population groups, including pregnant people.
It is still not known whether the Omicron variant causes more severe disease in pregnant women compared to other COVID-19 variants.