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Omicron deserves as much precaution as previous variants
February 6, 2022
The month of January has seen a significant jump in positive COVID-19 cases with much of the damage due to the Omicron variant. In Douglas County, the past few weeks have seen record numbers of new cases each day, with as many as 3000 reported on Jan. 10. Hospital occupancy is 86 percent as of Jan. 28, according to douglascounty-ne.gov.
While the Omicron variant has widely been regarded as milder than Delta and other past variants, there are multiple reasons to treat it as a severe and worrisome disease that requires preventative measures.
Although most Omicron cases have resulted in mild symptoms for much of the US population, there are outstanding groups of people who are being severely affected by the current variant, such as children younger than five and immunocompromised individuals.
According to Pop Science, “The number of hospitalizations for individuals under the age of five has multiplied since mid-December when Omicron first surged.” This statistic is largely because children under five have not been cleared by the FDA to receive the BioNTech Pfizer vaccine.
Young children may not understand the importance of wearing a mask properly, which leaves them particularly susceptible to contracting coronavirus. Eligible individuals, then, must get the COVID-19 vaccine to help prevent spreading Omicron and future variants to those who cannot get vaccinated.
Children under five are not the only ones who can still be severely affected by the Omicron variant. Immunocompromised individuals have been neglected throughout this pandemic in terms of immunocompetent individuals understanding how much a “mild” virus can affect their health.
Yes, vaccines are available for the immunocompromised. However, research has shown that immunocompromised people may not experience the same immune response to the vaccine as healthy people do. According to a study by the Transplant Society, immunocompromised people who had been vaccinated still had an “82-fold higher risk of infection and 485-fold risk of hospitalization.”
Omicron may share many of the symptoms of the common cold, which has led to misconceptions about how it affects high-risk individuals. The common cold originates from a rhinovirus, distinctly separate from the coronavirus that has evolved into the Omicron variant.
An expert at the University of Massachusetts’s Chan Medical School said that while vulnerable people can occasionally die from rhinovirus, it is “relatively rare” and coronavirus is “far more serious and lethal” than the common cold.
What may seem like a common cold for one person may be a life-threatening illness for another, which is why it is still important to recognize the risk Omicron can pose for immunocompromised people.
Aside from those hospitalized with COVID-19, one must also consider the strain being put on the hospitals themselves. A quarter of hospitals across the US are reporting “critical staff shortages”, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. This means that not everyone who goes to the hospital will be cared for, simply out of a sheer shortage of health care workers.
“The health care system is not just designed to take care of people with COVID…it’s designed to take care of kids with appendicitis and people who have heart attacks and get into car accidents,” are the words of Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of Public Health in an interview with CNN.
It is important to note that although the Omicron variant seems to be milder than past variants for most people, the virus does not necessarily become less severe as it evolves. Every infection of the coronavirus provides an opportunity for the virus to mutate, and because it is so highly transmissible, this mutation can happen extremely quickly. World Health Organization official Maria Van Kerkhove says that there is “no guarantee that the virus will get weaker…we can’t bank on it.”
What we can rely on, however, are the recommended methods to slow the spread of COVID. Masks, vaccinations, social distancing and other preventative methods should continue to be used to reduce the infection rate of the virus. We all must listen to health experts, continue to learn about the virus and actively work together to ensure a healthy and safe world for all, immunocompromised and otherwise.