Ukraine is likely to face a new wave of Covid-19 cases starting mid-January and running through February, due to the new highly transmissible strain Omicron, Deputy Minister of Health Ihor Kuzin told the public Ukrainian Radio (Suspilne) on Jan. 1.
He said the wave will likely peak in mid-February.
Kyiv detected its first cases of Omicron on Dec. 28, while the strain was detected on Dec. 18 for the first time in Ukraine.
Only six cases of Omicron have been detected in the country as of Dec. 30, but the new strain spreads faster than the previous ones, the official said.
“The Omicron strain is transmitted faster, more people can be infected, and the incubation period of the disease is shortened,” Kuzin said.
The number of new cases of Covid-19 in Ukraine has been decreasing lately: It went from over 10,000 a day in early December to about 5,000 a day in late December.
Kuzin also said that a booster could help build up defense systems against the new strain. The concern is Omicron is now so different from the original that vaccines may not be as effective. According to Kuzin, the vaccines are approximately 30% less effective against Omicron than the earlier strains.
Though Omicron appears to be less susceptible to vaccines than the earlier variants, boosters can help build stronger defenses against the virus. Unvaccinated individuals are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death from the new variant, according to health experts.
Ukraine isn't yet offering booster doses to the general population. Earlier, the government said they would be available in early 2022.
Right now, booster shots of Moderna or Comirnaty/Pfizer mRNA vaccines are available to healthcare workers, orphanage employees, and people at high risk from the virus in Ukraine.
All adult Ukrainians and foreigners with residence permits can get vaccinated for free at one of the mass vaccination centers or a local clinic. See the list here.
Since it was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in November, Omicron has spread across 80 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) named Omicron a new “variant of concern.”
The new strain has a combination of more than 50 mutations, which, early studies show, might increase transmissibility and partially escape infection- or vaccine-induced immunity.
Some studies suggested that Omicron may be the fastest transmissible Covid-19 strain to date.
According to researchers from the University of Hong Kong, Omicron multiplies around 70 times faster than Delta, previously known as the most contagious variant, in the human bronchial tubes. Omicron, however, multiplies less efficiently (more than 10 times lower) in the human lung tissue, the researchers discovered.
A Dec. 10 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests that the new variant may be less susceptible to vaccines. Out of the first 43 patients infected with Omicron in the U.S., the majority – 34 people – were fully vaccinated.