What we now know about the Omicron variant

With the projected number of Omicron cases expected to grow in the coming weeks, many questions about the COVID-19 variant are weighing on the minds of many Americans as the holidays draw near. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Lucy McBride outlines what we currently know about the Omicron variant and offers advice on how to handle holiday gatherings.

Video Transcript

LUCY MCBRIDE: So far, we know the most about vaccine effectiveness in the face of omicron for the Pfizer vaccine. We have learned through a large real world study out of South Africa that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine provides 70% effectiveness against hospitalization, compared to people who are unvaccinated. But remember, Pfizer and Moderna are very similar in their mechanism of action. So we can assume that the Moderna vaccine will be as effective against severe disease.

We don't yet have enough information about J&J, but it's probably going to be less effective against omicron because we see that the AstraZeneca shot, which is similar in mechanism to J&J also has reduced effectiveness. That said, the effectiveness of the vaccine against omicron can readily be increased with a booster shot. I'm recommending that all of my patients, 18 and above, get a single booster shot of an mRNA, either a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, to top off their antibody levels, and to help remind their memory B and T cells to be ready for action, should they be exposed to omicron.

The data are clear that a booster shot helped protect us against severe disease, and death, and also against infection. But it's not clear whether or not it makes any difference whether we get Moderna or Pfizer as our booster. And there may be some advantage to what we call heterologous mixing. But I think at this point, just get the first one you can get.

It's pretty clear at this point, particularly with the real world data coming out of South Africa this week, that Macron is more transmissible, more contagious than Delta. So we can expect to see a rise in cases in the United States like we have seen in Europe and in South Africa. Based on the real world data coming out of South Africa this week, it looks like people who are infected with omicron are at 29% reduced risk of hospitalization compared to people who are infected with Delta. So that's a good thing.

It's very promising that given the number of cases we are seeing right now around the globe, that we're not seeing a lot of deaths being reported. That said, it's still early, and it takes a while for people who've been infected to get sick and to get severely sick. So we need to keep a close eye on this information with time.

I think we need to remember, as we approach the holiday season, that once you have been vaccinated and boosted if eligible, that you have taken the very best step towards protecting yourself, your family, and your community. That said, you can take other precautions like masking in indoor spaces, taking a rapid antigen test before gathering with other people.

But I do think we have to start to become comfortable, not that we want to be, with ongoing risk, because coronavirus is going to be an endemic virus, it is going to be woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. And again, once we've been vaccinated, we've done the very best thing we can to protect ourselves and those around us.

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