The omicron variant of the novel coronavirus is very likely already amongst us. There’s still an awful lot we don’t know about it, but here’s what’s evident so far. Omicron is exceptionally contagious. Doubling times for infections are on the order of two or three days. That is, in a worst case, a community with 100 active cases of omicron today might expect 200 active cases two or three days from now, 400 active cases by the end of a week. Early studies also indicate that omicron has evolved mechanisms to evade our immune defenses. Antibodies from previous infections do not protect well against omicron, so people who had previous covid disease are susceptible to repeat infection and illness. Even two doses of the mRNA vaccines are only partially protective against omicron.
New data indicate that three doses of the mRNA vaccines (i.e. a booster of Pfizer or Moderna) still offer strong protection against severe illness. Otherwise we have to rely on the proven preventive measures: masks, increased ventilation, distancing, and avoiding large gatherings in closed spaces. That’s particularly disappointing in the holiday season. Unfortunately those measures may be the only hope to avoid another wave of this epidemic.
Best public health advice is to get vaccinated. Get your booster shot if you haven’t yet done so. And, if you are going to family gatherings, follow the public health precautions above. One more measure, if you can obtain them: testing with at-home rapid-test kits (e.g. BiNax) is a good idea on the day of any gathering (even better if you can carry out two tests, the first one on the day before the gathering). If you’re not feeling well, or if you test positive, don’t go out and about. Help protect the people you love during these holidays.
Bob Dorsett, M.D.
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