NEW ORLEANS — There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the COVID Omicron variant. For instance, do the vaccines keep you from getting the virus, or just lower your risk of a severe case? And when could we see this surge end?
We asked LSU Health Sciences’ Chief of Community and Population Medicine, Dr. Benjamin Springgate for answers.
First, are vaccines effective against Omicron?
“The initial two doses, while they were effective against prior variants, appear to have greatly diminished effectiveness against Omicron. It's really the booster dose which makes a big difference, as far as reducing the likelihood of becoming ill, and certainly seriously ill or hospitalized," Dr. Springgate said.
And the booster is most effective if you've gotten it recently?
“It appears that after a short number of weeks, the immunity provided by the booster also begins to wane, so this suggests, to me at least, that we may be looking at further boosters moving forward," Dr. Springgate said.
CDC data show it clearly, the unvaccinated are getting the most cases. The two-dose vaccinated are getting far fewer cases, while the boosted are getting even fewer.
Data also show how protective the vaccine is against deaths. The two dose and three dose vaccinated are far more protected than the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated are 10 times more likely to test positive, and 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
New variants are much more likely to be created when the virus infects unvaccinated people.
“The more time it replicates, that means there's a higher likelihood of there being additional mutations, because those mutations develop every time it replicates,” Dr. Springgate said.
When it comes to the infusion of those monoclonal antibodies to help you fight the infection, it appears only one brand helps with Omicron. And that is in short supply.
So what is the prediction about when this Omicron surge might end?
“The climb is going very quickly, and once it makes its way through the majority of people who might potentially be susceptible, or exposed, then for a period of time at least, we won't have a reinfection," Dr. Springgate said.
Forecasts can be off with human behavior hard to predict, but this surge could possibly decline in mid to late January, which is well before Mardi Gras parades roll.
Some local doctors believe Omicron could be around longer, for a couple more months, if a lot of unvaccinated people have still not been infected as we head into all the crowds during Mardi Gras.