ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — This week on Empire State Weekly, now that the omicron variant of COVID has been confirmed in New York, researchers are quickly working to learn as much as they can on the variant’s potential to undermine the efficacy of current vaccines, as this is the most advanced version of the virus they’ve seen to date.

Dr. Kirsten St. George, Chief of the State laboratory of viral diseases and Director of Virology at the Wadsworth Center, the State Health Department laboratory in Albany, joins us to discuss what’s already being uncovered with the Omicron variant through sequencing and testing samples. Dr. St. George says while there is still a lot that’s yet to be learned, they’ve so far uncovered an important finding in the short time Omicron has been on their radar.

“At this stage, fortunately there is not substantial evidence that it’s causing enhanced disease and that’s important. There’s a lot more to be learnt yet but at this stage there is no evidence of that.” Dr. St. George adds that something that surprised those studying the variant is just how heavily mutated it has evolved compared to variants of COVID such as Delta. According to Dr. St. George, the Omicron variant has 32 mutations in spike protein of the virus, whereas only 8 to 10 mutations were found in other variants.

“Some of these mutations we know are associated with certain characteristics that we are disappointed to see, characteristics that have been associated with some degree of immunity evasion.” Dr. St. George clarifies that while it’s still not clear just how evasive Omicron is to immunities provided by current vaccines, getting the COVID vaccine followed by the booster shot is still the best protection people have against contracting a life-threatening case of COVID.

New York State Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy also joins us to discuss the hotly contended race for New York Governor with the upcoming election year ahead. While no formal nominations have been announced yet, Congressman Lee Zeldin of Long Island is the presumptive nominee for Governor among the Republican and Conservative parties. He will face-off against former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, as well as Andrew Giuliani, son of Rudy Giuliani.

Langworthy says formal endorsements will be announced when the State Convention takes place in February, but expects Zeldin to be the party’s choice in the race for Governor. “Lee continues to raise money and travel all across New York State and do just a tremendous job establishing himself as the party’s preferred candidate.” Langworthy also weighs in on the crowded field of contenders vying for the Democratic nomination now that Congressman Tom Suozzi of Long Island has entered the fray.

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