By Genni Burkhart
On November 26th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Omicron a “variant of concern," a designation that means this strain has biological significance that makes it more transmissible or virulent on a global scale.
The WHO states that the preliminary evidence suggests a much higher risk of reinfection with this variant when compared to previous variants of concern (VOCs). On November 29th the WHO issued a further warning, stating that global risks are “very high" and that critical uncertainties remain concerning the Omicron variant.
At the time of this article, the Omicron variant has been identified in over 45 countries, including South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, Great Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and as of December 6th, has expanded to 17 U.S. states. However, Dr. Leslie Fang, DOCS' Medical Director, emphasized that formal identification takes time and the variant is likely throughout the United States.
What's Currently Known
Weighing in on this situation, Dr. Fang held a webinar on December 2nd titled "COVID-19 Squid Game: Survival of the Fittest" regarding the current status of COVID-19, and in particular the new Omicron variant.
Some key takeaways include:
- B.1.1.529, better known as the Omicron variant, appears to be leading the Delta variant regarding transmissibility due to it dominating the airspace by 3,000-fold.
- To quote Dr. Fang regarding getting the booster shot, "This is actually not a question. You boost." There are multiple studies with the same finding–vaccine efficacy will diminish over time. The further you are from getting the initial round of the vaccine, the more likely you are to no longer have efficient vaccine protection. The current COVID-19 booster works well at reducing the likelihood of infection across every age group, up to 95 percent. Simply put, everyone should be getting a booster shot.
- Most coronavirus vaccines work as boosters, with Pfizer and Moderna producing the highest antibody levels.
- It appears that with the Omicron variant, COVID-19 becomes more transmissible, evades immune response, and may resist vaccines.
- We're likely to see more restrictions for international travel, and more restrictions specifically towards those who are unvaccinated.
What Can We Do?
- Wear a mask–specifically one that doesn't leak–and continue to properly wash your hands and social distance.
- A good fitting mask is essential. N95, KN95, FFP2, P2, and the one Dr. Fang most prefers, the KF94. Note: If your glasses fog up while wearing the mask, it's too loose.
- New vaccines are on the horizon that will include important genetic mRNA sequencing, hopefully leading to a universal mRNA vaccine given as one shot, similar to the current flu shot.
- New antibodies and new treatments will be developed and hopefully become effective in fighting various strains of COVID-19.
- Look for a new vaccine targeting the Omicron variant in two to three months.
- You can wear a KF94 mask up to five times if it's not wet or soiled and if it is unworn for at least five days between wearings. Hang the five masks (marked by day of the week) on pegs, then wear one only on Mondays, another only on Tuesdays, and so on. After five wearings each, all masks should be thrown away. Washable, cloth masks are not recommended.
Dr. Fang concludes by explaining that we must continue exhibiting safe behaviors such as getting vaccinated, booster as many people as possible, wash hands, wear masks, and social distance. Ultimately, the strain doesn't matter; what matters is that we keep paying attention. If we continue to allow this virus to mutate, we'll perpetually be chasing our own tail.
Dr. Fang has graciously allowed DOCS to provide a recording of the webinar for the next week, but only to DOCS Members. It will be removed on Tuesday, Dec. 14th at 12pm PT.
If you’d like to view the webinar before it’s gone, we encourage you to become a trial member. For only $1, you’ll receive access to this recording and dozens of other resources valued at over $600. If you decide it’s not a good fit, you can cancel within 60 days.
Author: With over 11 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart’s career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, and news. She resides on the western shores of the Puget Sound where she works as the Editor in Chief for the Incisor at DOCS Education out of Seattle, WA.