There’s a lot of confusion surrounding the COVID-19 Omicron variant. Many people are unsure of what makes it different from the Delta variant. And many others are still undecided on whether they should get a booster shot for protection.
That’s why we’ve asked Dr. Emilio Dominguez, infectious diseases specialist and Chief Medical Officer at Florida Medical Clinic, to answer five of your most frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
What is the Omicron variant?
Omicron is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Variants are what doctors and scientists call different mutations of the same virus. Mutations are changes that happen to viruses as they spread from one person to another over time.
Omicron was first reported in South Africa in November of 2021. Since then, it’s been quickly spreading across the world. It is now the most common COVID-19 variant in the United States.
Delta vs. Omicron: which variant is more contagious? Which is more dangerous?
The Omicron variant appears to spread more quickly than delta. Doctors and scientists have observed that—although it’s more contagious—Omicron infections seem to be less severe than other variants, especially in people who have been vaccinated.
Delta remains the most dangerous variant. Studies show that your risk of being hospitalized or admitted into an ICU with Omicron is half of what it is for a Delta infection. The chance of being put on a ventilator with Omicron decreased to one in 1,000 people, compared to one in 400 for Delta infections.
Although the risks are reduced, Omicron is still not a mild disease. If you are over 65 years of age and/or living with underlying health conditions, you are still at high risk of hospitalization, admission into an ICU, or being put on a ventilator.
If you are unvaccinated or have not received the third dose of an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna, you are at the highest risk for severe illness. Most COVID-19 patients currently in hospitals, ICUs, and ventilators are unvaccinated.
What is the effect of the COVID-19 vaccine against new variants?
COVID-19 vaccines have proven very effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. If you catch the Delta variant, two doses of an mRNA vaccine should reduce your chance of infection by 80% and your risk of hospitalization by 93%.
But studies have shown that two shots of an mRNA vaccine do not offer the same level of protection against Omicron. The variant can still infect you, even if you are vaccinated or have had COVID in the past.
There are two possible explanations for this. The first one is that the antibodies that the first two vaccines create cannot recognize the new variant and attack it. The second one is that vaccine effectiveness decreases over time.
This is why getting your booster is so important. It will increase the protection your immune system has gradually lost since your second shot. And it will help increase the chances of your body recognizing and fighting off Omicron.
Remember that no vaccine is 100% effective and that there is always a chance of infection. Wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing whenever you are in proximity to others outside of your household is vital for protecting yourself and others.
Choose a mask that fits well and fully covers your nose and mouth. N95 masks offer the best protection against all strains of COVID-19.
What’s the latest news about the Omicron variant?
The CDC’s report for January 21, 2022, states that the Omicron variant has been driving a marked increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the US.
National positivity rates, or the percentage of all positive coronavirus tests, are currently at 24.8%. That is a concerning number. A positivity rate of over 5% is considered too high and indicates an uncontrollable spread. ICU bed usage also remains high at 83.21%.
In Florida, positivity rates for the third week of January of 2022 are above the national average at 31.7%. The percentage of ICU beds in use is 86.05%.
Here are the numbers from the CDC for Pasco County:
- Positivity rate – 30.28%
- ICU Beds in use – 13.21%
- Fully vaccinated people with a booster dose – 38.1%
Here are the numbers from the CDC for Hillsborough County:
- Positivity rate – 27.46%
- ICU Beds in use – 18.27%
- Fully vaccinated people with a booster dose – 33.6%
The sudden rise in cases has caused many hospitals and healthcare providers like Florida Medical Clinic to experience delays in care and long wait times. Because Omicron is so contagious, there are many healthcare professionals across the United States who are currently sick and unable to work.
Your well-being remains our priority. Our teams are doing their best to accommodate each patient while providing safe in-person care. We ask for your patience and understanding during this difficult time.
Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot?
Florida Medical Clinic doctors encourage you to receive a vaccine booster if you are eligible under CDC guidelines. Our facilities don’t offer COVID-19 vaccines at this time, so we recommend you book an appointment at:
You don’t need a doctor’s order to receive the vaccine booster at CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart. However, you may be asked about your health status during the scheduling process. You’ll also be asked about the date of your second vaccine dose.
Talk to your doctor if you still have questions about the booster or are wondering if you’re eligible. You can also visit the CDC website or sign up for the Florida Medical Clinic newsletter for more information about COVID-19.
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or treatments.