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Why are health experts worried about the Omicron variant?

The Omicron variant is the common name for the COVID-19 B.1.1.529 variant, which was first identified in South Africa in late November 2021. Health experts are concerned about the Omicron variant because early reports suggest that it has many mutations which may make it more infectious than previous strains of COVID-19, and allow it to escape immunity established by vaccines or prior COVID-19 infections. As of the first week of December 2021, the Omicron variant has been detected in more than 20 countries, with the first case in the United States having been reported on December 1, 2021. With that said, it is notable that as of the first week of December 2021, the Delta variant is still the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United States.

What do we know and not know about Omicron? 

As of the first week of December 2021, a lot remains unknown about the Omicron variant. In South Africa, COVID-19 cases have spiked dramatically since the last week of November, with the Omicron variant being the primary driver of these new cases. Notably, there has been a sharp rise of infections with the Omicron variant in people who had already been infected with other COVID-19 variants, suggesting that the Omicron variant can reinfect people.

As of the first week of December, hospitalizations have not risen to the same degree as COVID-19 infections and most of the hospitalizations were unvaccinated individuals, suggesting that vaccinated individuals may only experience mild infection even if they are infected with Omicron. This is consistent with the Omicron experience in the United States, where fully vaccinated individuals infected with the Omicron variant only displayed mild symptoms.

How well do currently available vaccines protect us against Omicron? 

We also do not know how well currently available vaccines protect us against the Omicron variant, although pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, are working rapidly to answer this question. Pharmaceutical companies are also developing new vaccines, in case those are needed to increase protection against Omicron.

Based on current information, Heed and national medical experts recommend completing a full vaccination series and getting a booster COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, if you qualify.

What are the current CDC recommendations for the Omicron variant?

In an early response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the CDC reinforced the importance of abiding by general COVID-19 prevention guidelines and strengthened its recommendation that all adults (18+) who qualify for a Pfizer or Moderna booster, seek the booster.

Furthermore, the CDC tightened restrictions on foreign travelers to the United States, now mandating that all foreign travelers show proof of negative COVID-19 testing 1 day prior to traveling to the U.S., which is updated from a prior requirement of 3 days before travel. All foreign travelers will also continue to be required to be fully vaccinated.

What should I do to protect myself from COVID-19, including the Omicron Variant? 

If you have not been fully vaccinated yet and are eligible, please seek to be vaccinated immediately. If you qualify for a booster vaccination, you should seek to obtain the booster vaccination immediately.

If you have questions, concerns, or reservations regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, this is normal and Heed’s medical experts would be happy to help you learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.

Outside of the strengthened recommendation to complete COVID-19 vaccination and booster series, there are not yet any new recommendations specific to the Omicron variant. Heed’s medical experts are paying close attention to the situation and will share timely updates when appropriate.

Activity Heed’s Recommendation 
Social Distancing Beyond your household, maintain social distancing (6 feet) regardless of vaccination status. 
Masking Check your county’s risk status through this link, if you live in an area of substantial (orange) or high (red) risk, resume indoor masking regardless of your vaccination status.
Testing If you display symptoms concerning COVID-19, or come into contact with someone with suspected/confirmed COVID-19, you should get tested within 3-5 days of exposure regardless of vaccination status.
Vaccination Complete your COVID-19 vaccination series, including getting a booster, if you have not done so yet and qualify.