December 15, 2021

Omicron: What you need to know

New variant is déjà vu all over again 

It’s spreading rapidly. Travel restrictions are in place. Predictions of a massive wave of infections among the unvaccinated. Warnings of swamped hospitals. Been there, done that. Again. 

If it feels like Groundhog Day, it is in all respects except for two significant differences. 

First is the potential for what the medical community is calling a possible “triple whammy”–a new variant coexisting with the delta variant and the threat of a severe flu season. 

Second, early signs indicate that the new virus is even more transmissible (words “dramatically” and “unprecedented” have been used) and it’s a mutating machine, making it a more formidable combatant against our immune systems. A new study out of South Africa seems to confirm that existing vaccines are significantly less effective at fighting off infections.

The good news is that vaccinated people are still protected against severe symptoms that require hospitalization. 

The bad news is that millions remain un- or partially vaccinated, and the death toll is predicted to rise from 800,473 to as high as 845,000 by January 8th. 

A few key U.S. facts 
  • New omicron cases have been reported across 36 states from Alaska to Florida and California to New York
  • Between Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, the variant is the suspected cause of a sharp rise in new infections from 0.4% to 2.9%
  • The variant accounts for 13% of infections in New York and New Jersey
  • Omicron accounted for 13% of new cases for a Houston hospital system
What’s the plan?

As of this moment, vaccine makers, the CDC and the White House have agreed that omicron does not warrant a new or modified vaccine. 

Everyone who has not been fully vaccinated is urged to do so. To date, 200 million have received vaccinations but of that number only 55 million have received the recommended booster. 

No new lock- or shutdowns are being considered. 

And of course, keep masking, handwashing and social distancing until further notice. 

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