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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New data from South Africa suggests the Omicron variant spreads more than twice as quickly as the Delta variant, and that immunity from prior infection doesn't appear to protect a person very well against Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The findings are extremely preliminary, and there are still many open questions about how well vaccines work against the variant. But these initial breadcrumbs of data are helping the world begin to understand what it's up against.

Where it stands: It's going to be a while before we can draw any firm conclusions about Omicron.

  • Until then, scientists will be racing to piece together whatever information they have, and policymakers will then have to make real-time decisions about how to apply that imperfect information.

Driving the news: A South African preprint study released Thursday — which hasn't yet been peer-reviewed — found that reinfection is around three times more likely with Omicron than it was with other variants.

  • The study makes no assessment of whether Omicron can also escape vaccine-induced immunity or how well prior infections protect against severe disease.
  • South African researchers also released an initial assessment, which also had not yet been peer-reviewed, of how fast Omicron is spreading compared to Delta. The variant's ability to get past the body's immune system is part of what's driving the variant's rapid spread, the NYT reports.

Experts caution that it's way too early to know for sure, but there are some signs that Omicron may not cause more severe disease than the other variants. Under the best-case scenario, it'd cause milder illness.

The bottom line: This early information underscores the importance of getting vaccinated, even if you've already had COVID.

Go deeper

Updated 23 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 50 mins ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.

National Archives releases Trump White House records to Jan. 6 panel

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The National Archives on Thursday evening released records of former President Trump's White House to the House Jan. 6 Select Committee, the agency said.

Why it matters: The committee now has documents that Trump attempted to keep hidden, arguing that their release would undermine his executive privilege.