While Omicron seems to be the latest out of a chain of bad pandemic-related news, there is some good news as well!
As it turns out, the newest COVID-19 variant of concern might not be around for much longer!
Furthermore, it appears that those who are fully vaccinated have nothing to worry about if they have healthy immune systems.
Medical experts think Omicron is most likely not going to last for a long time due to it being so contagious.
This strain of the virus was first discovered in South Africa the day before Thanksgiving and it spread really fast all over the country becoming the dominant form of COVID-19 but cases are already falling there.
In the week that preceded Christmas day, the numbers of new cases had dropped almost 36 percent from their peak only a week earlier as per a new USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
And sure enough, the Northeast, which has been affected by Omicron a lot as well in the last two weeks, seems to be following the same pattern.
As a result, the region could start seeing falling case rates as soon as by the end of next month!
However, experts note that due to the United States being so big, it is likely to take some time for the variant to move across the country.
As for people who have received their vaccines, this news is even better!
As mentioned before, those fully vaccinated should not be as worried.
Of course, while the shots are definitely not as effective against Omicron as against other previous variants, vaccinations and boosting still appear to make quite a significant difference in people who have relatively healthy immune systems.
For instance, emergency room physician, Dr. Craig Spencer stated on Twitter that people who have received three doses of the vaccine and still manage to somehow get infected, only suffer mild symptoms for a couple of days, such as fatigue, sore throat and muscle pain.
On the other hand, people who had only two shots seem to get worse symptoms for unknown reasons.
Dr. Spencer mentioned that, if infected, they get “More fatigued. More fever. More coughing. A little more miserable overall.”
As for people who have only received one shot, their illness is even more serious, the specialist noting that while they may feel terrible for a few days, it is still “not life threatening.”
He went on to stress that virtually all COVID patients who need hospitalization are unvaccinated.
“Every one with profound shortness of breath. Every one whose oxygen dropped when they walked. Every one needing oxygen to breathe regularly.”
I’ve seen a lot of Covid in the ER recently.
With so many people getting infected recently, some folks may wonder what’s the point of getting vaccinated at all?
And is there really any value to a booster dose if I’ve had two Pfizer/Moderna or a shot of J&J?
My observations: 🧵
— Craig Spencer MD MPH (@Craig_A_Spencer) December 27, 2021
The clear reality is that while still at a slight risk of infection, vaccinated people simply experience much less serious symptoms and for a shorter time period.
Of course, there are also some exceptions and those are people with really weakened immune systems, either by old age or medication for other more serious illnesses.
Infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, explained that “The immunocompromised and people who are particularly frail – there we have to be careful. That’s an important group that despite vaccination haven’t been fully protected.”
Dr. Gandhi revealed that the number of COVID patients at Mass. General has actually more than doubled in the last couple of weeks, from 40-45 during the surge of the Delta variant to more than 100 now that Omicron is the new variant of concern.
Not only that but many more phone calls are being made to the hospital as well at this point in time, with over 500 of those asking for information about COVID only over the Christmas weekend, which the medical specialist dubbed as “an unprecedented number.”
Dr. Gandhi said that Omicron has also made it a bit harder for people to stay out of the hospital.
Two out of the three monoclonal antibodies given to people at a high risk of serious illness no longer work when it comes to Omicron infections.
The third one, sotrovimab, while still efficient, is unfortunately in short supply.
But two antiviral pills, molnupiravir and Paxlovid, which were recently authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration, are making a significant difference in the fight against the pandemic, in addition to being much easier to give.
That being said, Dr. Gandhi stressed that they are also not widely available at this time, noting that he has not had any in supply either.
Infectious disease expert at the UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts, Jeremy Luban, explained that while researchers think Omicron is not as dangerous as previous variants, due to the fact that it is so contagious, it will likely still land just as many if not even more patients in the hospital.
What this means, according to Luban and to Jacob Lemieux, an infectious disease expert at Mass. General, is that we have to go back to trying to flatten the curve in order to keep hospitals from getting too overwhelmed.
This and more was shared by the aforementioned medical specialists and other researchers in Massachusetts in a conference call with reporters.
Lemieux stated that “We have to hold these two realities of Omicron in our mind as we think about how to go forward. The picture is not totally bleak. With these new medicines … it really does suggest there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to get through the tunnel, and the tunnel is long, and it’s looking dark for the next few weeks at least.”
But is it possible that, by infecting a lot of people in a short period of time but in a much milder way, Omicron will lead to more immunity building against COVID?
Sadly, the answer seems to be no.
The founding director of the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard, Dr. Bruce Walker, stated that “The idea of a less pathogenic virus that could instill cross-protective immunity without causing long COVID would certainly be a godsend. I don’t think any of us is willing to say that Omicron is it. In fact, I think it’s likely that it’s not.”