What if Omicron is Not Mild?
Omicron is the most contagious version of COVID-19 we have experienced.
It also has changes that make it more likely to cause repeat infections, make standard vaccine dosing less effective, and render it resistant to most of the monoclonal antibody therapies that we used for the previous variants.
Despite this, preliminary data from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggests that the Omicron variant may cause a milder illness.
This would be great but may not apply to us in Mississippi with close to half of our population unvaccinated and a significant portion with no immunity to COVID-19 through natural infection (in contrast to the higher vaccination rate in the United Kingdom and the high rate of previous infection in South Africa).
- If you are unvaccinated, Omicron may not be mild.
- If you need monoclonal antibody therapy and it is not available, Omicron may not be mild.
- If you need emergency care for something other than COVID-19, Omicron may impact your care.
- If you have underlying health conditions, Omicron may not be mild.
Even if Omicron causes mild illnesses in individuals who’ve been vaccinated or had a prior infection, the disruptions caused by Omicron can be life-changing. Right now the disruptions caused by Omicron are not mild.
We have almost two years of knowledge to fight the Omicron variant of COVID-19. We have amazing tools to reduce our individual risk of infection, severe disease and death. It is time to put that knowledge to use along with the tools. The tools work the best when combined.
During surges, combining these tools will save lives:
- Vaccines are the best thing we have for COVID-19, and our understanding of what works has increased. The vaccines are also the most widely available tool that we have in each community. We need to take more doses than we originally thought. COVID-19 changed and our understanding of vaccines has grown. We learned this for every vaccine out there that we regularly use. Don’t misinterpret the need for more doses as evidence of the lack of effectiveness. Get started, complete your primary vaccination series and get a booster dose as soon as you are eligible.
- Wearing an appropriate mask that fits, works. Some masks work better than others but only if we wear them, particularly when we are indoors. KN95s, N95s, surgical and procedural masks work better but a two-layer face covering can be better than nothing. Even if you are vaccinated, a mask can help reduce your risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.
- During the surge, be flexible with your plans and events. Outdoor, well-ventilated, uncrowded and small events are much safer options than the alternatives.
- If you have been exposed, limit exposing others while you are quarantining and get tested. If you have symptoms that can be COVID-19, do not expose others and go get tested. If you tested positive, let people know who have been exposed so that they can change activities and get tested.
- If you test positive and meet criteria, monoclonal antibody therapy works. This will be significantly more difficult with the Omicron variant since it is resistant to the two most commonly available therapies. The therapy that works is in severe short supply. Eventually, there will be pills to take if you test positive for COVID-19 to prevent severe disease and death. Unfortunately, they will not be available for several weeks and will be severely limited in each state (less than 3,000 doses are allocated to the entire state of Mississippi by mid-January 2022).
So, try hard not to catch and spread COVID-19 by following steps 1-3 because Omicron might not be mild here in Mississippi.
Even if Omicron causes mild illness, the disruptions caused by Omicron can be life-changing.