The currently available COVID-19 vaccines protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the Omicron variant. Breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated may occur, but most vaccinated individuals have reported mild or no symptoms from the Omicron variant.
Booster shots are more important now than ever. They are free and can be obtained at your local pharmacy, health care provider, and at pop-ups across the country. If you need help finding an appointment, reach out to our team at Mira!
The Omicron Variant
The Omicron variant arose in November 2021 from South Africa with a large number of mutations to the virus that causes COVID-19. These mutations can cause a variant to be more contagious than others. Over 99% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are the Omicron variant.
Scientists are currently monitoring the spread of the Omicron variant to determine how easily it spreads, how dangerous it is, and how the current vaccines will hold up. The rapid growth in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant is thought to occur for two reasons:
- Increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant
- The potential for immune evasion from vaccines and prior infection
Omicron Variant Severity
According to a study conducted in South Africa, people who contracted the Omicron variant were 80% less likely to be hospitalized than people who contracted other variants, including Delta. It is hard to distinguish if this is due to the virulence of the variant or the rate of vaccination. The researchers believe some of this reduction is due to high population immunity, which is why a booster dose is recommended.
Omicron Variant Transmissibility
People infected with the Omicron variant may have higher viral loads, leading them to be more infectious. Researchers are still trying to quantify how easily Omicron spreads compared to Delta. One thing is for sure: people infected with the Omicron variant can easily spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.
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Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine and the Omicron Variant
A booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine has been proven effective at increasing protection against the Omicron variant. While two doses will still reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalization, a booster dose offers 25 times more protection.
The Pfizer vaccine is slightly less effective against the omicron variant than the delta variant, but more data is needed to determine the exact effectiveness of the vaccine against the Omicron variant.
Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine and the Omicron Variant
A booster shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine increases protection against the Omicron variant by 37-fold. They have reported that a double dose of the booster shot (100 micrograms versus 50 micrograms) is significantly more effective.
No vaccine or booster offers 100 percent protection; therefore, some people may still become infected after vaccination. With breakthrough cases, vaccinated people are less likely to develop severe illness or be hospitalized because their immune system has been primed to recognize the virus.
Omicron Variant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
As we begin 2022, researchers are continuing to study the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine vaccine protocols with the rise of new variants. At this time, we know getting vaccinated is important, and booster doses offer greater protection. Below we answer some questions about the omicron variant and vaccinations.
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Do COVID-19 tests detect the Omicron variant?
The mutated SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant may be harder to detect than previous strains. PCR tests can detect the Omicron variant effectively, while rapid “antigen” tests are more likely to give a false negative result.
Testing at home more frequently can reduce the chance of a false negative. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, an in-person PCR test is recommended.
Will there be more variants in 2022?
The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, is constantly mutating as it spreads and will continue to do so until we reach herd immunity. The best way to prevent more COVID-19 variants in 2022 is to increase herd immunity until the virus cannot spread.
As the genetic code changes, new variants of SARS-CoV-2 will appear. Some variants will spread rapidly and may cause severe illness, while others may not be of concern.
Will there be a variant-specific vaccine for the Omicron variant?
Pfizer is developing a variant-specific vaccine for the Omicron variant to help induce a greater level of protection against Omicron compared to the current vaccine. Moderna also plans to make minor adjustments to the current vaccine to better protect against the Omicron variant.
In the coming months, we may see variant-specific vaccines depending on the speed of vaccine development and the rate at which the virus mutates.
Even in the face of the Omicron variant, vaccines remain effective at preventing severe sickness from COVID-19 and reducing the likelihood of new variants emerging. The CDC recommends:
- Everyone 5 years and older protects themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated.
- Everyone 12 years and older should get a booster shot at least two months after their initial J&J vaccine or five months after completing their initial COVID-19 vaccination series of Pfizer or Moderna.
If you need help finding a place to get vaccinated, you can contact our team at Mira. Mira offers affordable health care services such as lab testing, urgent care visits, telehealth, and more!
Alexis Bryan MPH, is a recent graduate of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is passionate about increasing access to care to improve health outcomes. Outside of work, she loves to travel, read, and pay too much attention to her plants.