The COVID-19 omicron variant continues to concern scientists and public health officials. On Sunday, the World Health Organization warned its member states that “the likelihood of potential further spread of omicron at the global level is high.” They rated the overall risk from the variant as “very high.”
Why the risk? The omicron variant has a number of mutations to its spike protein that may make it more transmissible and give it the potential to evade immunity gained from vaccination or previous infection, as SELF previously reported. Experts are working quickly to understand whether these mutations do, in fact, make the variant easier to spread, and how much effectiveness current vaccines maintain against it.
But while we wait for more information—which experts suggest will take about two weeks—what can do to keep ourselves and each other safe?
Priority number one is to get vaccinated if you haven’t already. (Here’s how to prepare for your COVID-19 vaccine appointment.) If you’re already fully vaccinated and at least six months out from your full Pfizer/Moderna vaccination or at least two months out from your Johnson & Johnson shot, get your booster. “This is the best way to protect yourself against delta, which is still very much with us in the U.S., and omicron if it comes to the U.S., which it almost certainly will at some point,” Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday.
This echoes the advice of other public health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which updated their guidance on Monday to recommend boosters to all adults. “The recent emergence of the omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement announcing the update. “I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness. I also want to encourage people to get a COVID-19 test if they are sick. Increased testing will help us identify omicron quickly.”
If you’re wondering why a COVID-19 vaccine is a good call when we still don’t know how effective it will be against omicron, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained to PBS Newshour that he believes current vaccines will still offer some level of protection against the variant—particularly with boosters. He pointed to how effectively the vaccines have worked against the delta variant, which emerged after our currently available COVID-19 vaccines were already developed. “When you get a high enough titer following vaccination, and certainly following a booster, you cover the delta variant, you have a crossing over of protection to it,” he said. “Knowing what we know about variants, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least some degree and maybe a significant degree of protection [against omicron]. We don’t know that yet till we prove it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.”