The omicron COVID-19 variant is spreading quickly in the U.S., raising concerns about another wave of infections.
Since omicron was first detected in South Africa in November, it has turned up all over the world, including in South Carolina.
“Omicron is spreading rapidly,” says Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health. “Although cause for concern, the good news is we have tools to fight this variant.”
Researchers are continuing to learn more about omicron; here are a few things to know:
1. Omicron is spreading quickly
Preliminary data suggest this version of the COVID-19 coronavirus is highly transmissible. The CDC has warned of a potential surge of omicron cases as soon as next month – at a time when influenza and other respiratory illnesses tend to peak.
2. Reinfection is possible.
Early research into omicron suggests that previous COVID-19 infection confers less immunity against this new version of the virus. Although scientists are still gathering more data, it appears omicron may be better able to evade natural immunity than the original form of the virus and other variants.
3. Vaccines help prevent serious illness.
Although preliminary research suggests that existing vaccines may be less effective at preventing symptomatic infection from the omicron variant, research has also found that two-dose vaccine regimens remain quite effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalization.
Anyone 5 and older is eligible to receive the vaccine. For more information, please click here.
4. Boosters add more protection.
Although the infection protection offered by existing two-dose vaccines against omicron may be reduced, research suggests that receiving the booster shot can help make up the difference. Early research has shown much stronger protection after vaccinated people received the booster dose, prompting public health officials to encourage eligible people to receive the booster as soon as possible.
For more information about eligibility and where to get the booster, click here.
5. Symptoms may be less severe.
Although omicron may be more transmissible than previous versions of the disease, early research suggest its symptoms may be somewhat less severe. The CDC has reported cough, fatigue, congestion and runny nose as the most common symptoms. However, public health officials caution the variant still poses a significant risk of hospitalization and severe illness, particularly among high-risk people who are unvaccinated. Plus, even if another person’s illness isn’t severe, that doesn’t mean yours will be, too.
“I highly recommend that adults and children 5 and older who haven’t already gotten vaccinated do so as soon as possible,” Dr. Harmon says. “If you’re already fully vaccinated and you are eligible, be sure to get the booster as soon as possible.”
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Vice President of Medical Affairs and Family Medicine Physician
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.Learn More
Medical University of South Carolina
U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital
American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.