INDIANAPOLIS — The omicron variant of COVID-19 has not yet been detected in Indiana, but data analysts are already tracking the impact it could have in our state.
Dr. Brian Dixon is the Director of Public Health Informatics at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis, which helps advise state health officials on diseases.
“We gather data from a variety of sources and integrate that data with the State Department of Health, county health departments, as well as researchers and scientists,” Dixon said.
Dixon says they’re already tracking the omicron variant’s impact in other countries.
“One of the first things we try to do is assess what the potential for this variant will be in terms of both infectiousness, which is how quickly will it infect a lot of people than the other variants, and then the other thing we're looking at is virulence,” Dixon said. “That is the propensity to create severe disease which is what puts people in the hospital or kills them."
Dixon is also an associate professor at the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health.
“It is too early to tell the impact for Indiana and the United States because we really don’t know how much more or less infectious and more or less virulent this variant of this disease is,” Dixon said.
Dixon said you should not be overly concerned, but you should stay informed.
“It's not a time for panic, it's a time for concern, because we are learning a lot about this new variant,” Dixon said. “It has some features about it that could make it more dangerous but we don't have enough data to suggest that it is.
"The early suggestion out of South Africa is that this new variant will cause more mild disease in people and seems to be infecting younger adults in that country. It's really too early to see the whole story until we gather more data."
Dixon is already studying the effectiveness of vaccines against the delta variant, and he plans to also study the effectiveness against omicron as well — especially when it comes to vulnerable populations.
Vaccines have been effective in Indiana at reducing hospitalizations and death, said Dixon.
“We will continue to monitor that with the presence of the omicron in Indiana and United states and that’s what we will be reporting on — the effectiveness of the vaccine with this new variant and the delta variant, and populations,” Dixon said. “We’re particularly worried about pregnant women and other individuals at higher risk of complications.”