UVA Health expert weighs in on what is known about omicron variant

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 4:44 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Data coming out of South Africa is shedding light on how the new omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading and how much we should be concerned.

“A couple of things that have been concerning early on, are the fact that it does seem to be spreading very rapidly. It’s unclear if it actually spreads more than delta [variant] at this point, but there are a lot of signals that it potentially could,” Dr. Taison Bell with UVA Health said.

Dr. Bell says if you have had COVID-19, natural immunity does not seem to provide adequate protection.

“Reinfection rates are three times higher with omicron then compared with delta,” Dr. Bell said.

While there has been a rapid spread of the omicron variant in South Africa, the United States has some differences.

“South Africa has a very different population than us, so they have about a quarter of their population fully vaccinated. We have about 60% of our population fully vaccinated, and it’s estimated that 70% of the population there has had covid as opposed to about a third of the population here. So they rely much more on natural immunity from higher infection than vaccination,” Bell said.

The United States relies more on vaccination.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that you should wait for a potential update for vaccine. Getting boosted right now is a very good idea,” Bell said.

Getting vaccinated, getting your booster, wearing a mask, and social distancing all work to stop the spread and keep you protected.

“If you’re eligible for the booster, go ahead and get the booster because having those higher antibody levels means that you have a better chance against variants - delta or omicron. Less chance of getting sick, less chance of passing it on,” Bell said.

He says hospitalizations and deaths tend to lag two to four weeks from when cases go up. More time and research is needed to see what the impact of these rates will be.

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