As the ominous omicron COVID-19 variant clashes with the still stealthy delta variant, healthcare experts urge individuals to get their booster shots as soon as possible. While it is still too early to identify the full impact of omicron in the U.S. ? the first case in the U.S., in California, was announced Wednesday ? it has become the dominant strain in South Africa, where it was first detected.
According to CNN, the delta variant is still the number one virus in America, causing rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations. With winter upon us and more people spending time indoors, the convergence of the variants may spell even more spikes in COVID-19 cases.
Boosters have proven to be effective against other variants, so they are still your best protection. While the vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson scramble to test their products against omicron, we may have to wait several weeks for the results.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that it’s imperative to get vaccinated and/or boosted quickly.
“We know from experience that even with the variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the delta variant, if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants,” he said.
Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the White House, told ABC News, that he would “not at all” recommend waiting for the vaccine to be tweaked to target omicron. Dr. Camille Kotton, clinical director of Transplant and Immunocompromised Host Infectious Disease at the Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees.
“People should not wait for the vaccine to be tweaked to adapt to the new variant as it would be many months until that new vaccine is released,” she said. “They should get a primary vaccine now or a booster, and then when the updated vaccines are available we may well need additional doses of the vaccine then.”
However, there is cause for concern as omicron is decidedly different from other coronavirus variants. According to CNN, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, says that the new variant has a record number of mutations.
More than 30 of these mutations are found in the spike protein of the virus, the part targeted by vaccines. The variant may even evade protection from natural infections.
“We worry if the spike protein is of a different shape, maybe the antibodies won’t stick as well. That’s the reason for concern,” said Collins.
“Your best protection against delta is to get vaccinated, and if you’ve already been vaccinated and six months have passed since you got Pfizer or Moderna, get your booster; two months since J & J, get your booster,” said Collins. “That was a reason already. But now add omicron to the mix.”
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