COVID

Dr. Ashish Jha says holiday gatherings are still safe for vaccinated people

“For most Americans, if you’re fully vaccinated, especially if you’re boosted, I think travel is pretty reasonable, pretty safe.” 

David Paul Morris
Dr. Ashish Jha said travelers should continue to wear protective masks and take other precautionary measures that have been recommended throughout the pandemic. David Paul Morris

With the United States experiencing a COVID-19 delta variant surge headed into the Christmas holidays, and with the new omicron strain of the virus on the rise, people may be uncertain about their plans for the year end celebrations.

But one local doctor says it’s still safe to gather for the holidays — if you are vaccinated. 

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday morning to discuss the omicron variant. 

“Omicron is not going to be dominant in the U.S. probably until January,” Jha said. “It’s just in small numbers still. For most Americans, if you’re fully vaccinated, especially if you’re boosted, I think travel is pretty reasonable, pretty safe.” 

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Travelers should, however, continue to wear protective masks and take other precautionary measures that have been recommended throughout the pandemic, Jha added. 

The doctor also addressed two new studies on omicron; one from Pfizer that found booster shots offer protection against the variant and another from South Africa that indicates the new strain has ‘much more extensive escape’ from antibodies than previous variants.

Although the study from South Africa determined that omicron is more prone to reinfecting people with COVID-19 and can more easily break through vaccinated individuals, Pfizer found that the booster shot significantly increased the level of virus-fighting antibodies in individuals. 

“Two shots of the vaccine, probably not enough to prevent infections … Three doses with the booster, it’s going to end up making a big difference,” Jha said. 

Early infections of young people in South Africa showed that those infected with the variant may experience less severe symptoms of COVID-19 than that of the delta variant, the New York Times reports. Chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci also said Tuesday that preliminary data and anecdotal evidence shows omicron potentially causes less severe symptoms. 

Jha said for those who have gotten vaccinated with two shots or have previously been infected with COVID-19, if they are infected with omicron they are much more likely to have milder symptoms. But the doctor said getting the booster shot will decrease the chances of even contracting the variant. 

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He is, however, uncertain about whether omicron will be a milder variant for those who are unvaccinated or do not have natural immunity from contracting the virus previously. 

Jha expects that the omicron variant will be on the rise in the U.S. in January and February, just after the cases from delta start to dip, as they did in January 2021. But data on omicron continues to be uncertain.

“I’m hoping it won’t be terrible because if people are vaccinated, they’re boosted, we’re gonna weather this,” Jha said.

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