COVID

The new omicron variant will not be a reset to March 2020, experts say

“If you’re not yet boosted and certainly if you’re not vaccinated, you need to go get the shot.”

Jerome Delay
Passengers make their way through Johannesburg's OR Tambo's airport on Monday. Jerome Delay / AP

Since the alarm was sounded Friday about a new coronavirus variant, scientists, doctors, and health officials have been scrambling to understand the new variant and its transmissibility.

The World Health Organization has categorized the variant, omicron, as a variant of concern after a rapid increase in cases in southern Africa. But due to the lack of data available, little is known about it yet.

The variant has been detected in parts of Africa and Europe, as well as in Australia and Canada. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor for the White House, told NBC Saturday that the new variant most likely already exists in the U.S. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, agrees with Fauci and says it will likely be detected in the next few days.

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Many health officials in the U.S., however, believe that the current administered vaccines offer protection against omicron, and it will not set the country back to square one. Jha predicts there will be some laboratory data on whether or not the vaccines are holding up against the new variant by the end of the week.

“I think the chances that this variant will completely evade our vaccines, extremely unlikely,” he said on the “Today” show.

Even if data shows the current vaccines may not be as protective against the omicron variant, it will not create a doomsday scenario like March 2020 when the coronavirus first spread throughout the U.S., Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brighams and Women’s Hospital, said in an Instagram Live. Now, there are vaccines widely available across the country and the ability for new vaccines to be created, he said.

“[The White House, the CDC, and even the FDA] feel that Pfizer and Moderna coud churn out, within 100 days possibly, tens of millions of doses of a new vaccine if that were to become necessary,” Faust said.

Faust says his optimism for a rapid development of a new vaccine, if needed, is due to the technology that was used to create the original vaccines.

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More accurate data on hospitalizations and vaccine effectiveness will be available in the next couple of weeks, just before most people begin to head to airports for the holiday season, Faust said. The best way to stay safe from this new variant is to get a booster shot for those who are vaccinated, and to get the vaccine for those who are unvaccinated, according to the doctors.

“We don’t know what the next two weeks will bring with omicron, but it’s not an on/off switch, and the more antibodies you have, the greater protection you have from both the primary series and the booster, the safer you will be if it turns out that omicron is in fact a variant that needs a booster,” Director of Boston University’s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Policy and Research Dr. Nahid Bhadelia said on MSNBC Sunday.

Jha echoed Bhadelia’s sentiment.

“If you’re not yet boosted and certainly if you’re not vaccinated, you need to go get the shot,” Jha said. “There has never been a more urgent time.”

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