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Updated: 12.01.2022 13:24

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  • Author Yannick Hanke

Omikron is the name of the new coronavirus variant that has already been introduced into Germany from South Africa. But where does her name actually result from?

Berlin- For only about a day was called The newly discovered corona variant B.1.1.529 before the World Health Organization WHO on Friday evening, 26. November 2021, met. The collective result of this consultation: the Corona mutant is henceforth called Omikron*. But how did it come to this name, which deviates from an otherwise prevailing norm?

United Nations Specialized Agency: World Health Organization
Establishment: 7. April 1948
Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland
budget: 9.388 billion USD
organization type: Special organization
Founders: USA, United Kingdom, Brazil, France u.v.m.
Subsidiaries: Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud, Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response
umbrella organization: United Nations

Omikron: New Corona variant gets its name from World Health Organization (WHO)

Actually, the Greek alphabet is used for naming the variants. Accordingly, it would have been the turn of "Ny". However, the WHO has learned from a recent problem with its naming policy. A look back: in 2009, the H1N1 influenza variant went around the world. The first reports from Mexico, where they were discovered, sounded frightening at the time.

In the end, however, the H1N1 influenza variant turned out to be rather harmless. But the "Mexican Flu" had long since damaged Mexico’s image. A mistake from which the WHO wanted to learn imperatively – and almost failed because of their own, too complicated system. Because when in the winter of 2020 the Corona variant B.1.1.7 was discovered, media outlets did not call it by its scientific name – but described it as the "British variant".

Corona variants such as Omikron are now named after the Greek alphabet – so as not to stigmatize individual countries

The situation was similar with the Corona variant B.1.351, which shortly afterwards was called the "South African variant. The big problem: both variants probably did not originate in these two countries. Accordingly, no blame should be placed on individual countries for the fact that a virus supposedly mutated into a variant there.

That’s why the WHO changed its mind and decided to use Greek letters for the variant designation. Indeed, these are not associated with any territory, country or animal, as was the case with "swine flu". They ultimately have a neutral effect.

Means in practice: the Corona variant B.1.1.7 became Alpha, B.1.351 to Beta. Since then, other variants have been added, with Delta in particular still giving the world a hard time. Others, from Epsilon to My, emerged but failed to catch on. Next letter in the Greek alphabet would be Ny, which is pronounced "Nu" in English. However, according to the WHO, that would sound too similar to "new", which would be too confusing, especially in the context of the "new variant".

Why is the Corona variant called Omikron not Xi?

The following letter in the Greek alphabet would be Xi. According to the WHO, this would be too "frequent a surname", especially among Chinese. That’s why the name for the new Corona variant fell on Omikron, the 15. Letters in the Greek alphabet.

"It’s better to be vaccinated": virologist Christian Drosten warns against corona variant Omikron

Regardless of the name, this country’s virologists have already heard of Omikron – and they are concerned. Christian Drosten, head of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, told ZDF’s "heute journal" that we could be dealing with a real "immune escape variant". What is meant here is that Omikron could evade an immune defense built up against other Sars-CoV-2 variants.

The uncertainty prevails. There is only one thing Christian Drosten, who does not rule out a lockdown*, can say for sure. „It is better to be vaccinated. It’s even better when you’re boosted". But this also raises the question of whether vaccinations might need to be changed. Basically, he says, it is possible to adapt mRNA vaccines. „This will be technically relatively easy to do. But we’re talking months here,", says Drosten.

Omikron classified as "variant of concern" by WHO – Biontech to adapt vaccine within 100 days

Something more concretely white to name it the vaccine manufacturer Biontech/Pfizer, which plans to produce and launch an updated version of its vaccine within 100 days. Provided, of course, that the new Omicron variant would be resistant to the current vaccine, reports Business Insider. Meanwhile, Lower Saxony’s prime minister says vaccinations are "effective against omicron" and still advocates lockdown and mandatory vaccination.

As outlined earlier, the Corona variant itself has multiple mutations. These make it easier for Omikron to evade the antibodies that form in the body after a vaccination against Covid-19. In addition, the mutations could also lead to the Omikron variant spreading more easily – and even among vaccinated people.

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