Thoughts and Feelings about Omicron

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again, time. Even with an almost exclusively rational flow of information, from vetted sources, especially the newsletter of Your Local Epidemiologist, “written by Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, MPH PhD— an epidemiologist, biostatistician, professor, researcher, wife, and mom of two little girls. During the day she has a research lab and teaches graduate-level courses, but at night she writes this newsletter. Her main goal is to “translate” the ever-evolving public health science so that people will be well-equipped to make evidence-based decisions, rather than decisions based in fear,” I have twinges of the same anxiety I felt in the first fear-filled largely uninformed days of the outbreak of Covid in earnest, when Trump was still President. I mention the latter condition, not only to place my reference in time, but because he so conditioned the nature of the response and the state of mind of virtually everyone (which is to say, everyone) whose lives could potentially be affected at some undetermined time adversely by the emerging scourge, and the pandemic it brought to the world in its advance waves of infection.

As Dr. Jetelina suggests, we are at the mercy of time, as the first emerging signs of the effects of Omicron, which sprang out of nowhere, seemingly, though first reported, as it continues to be, most reliably by the health professionals monitoring these things in South Africa. It appears as a preliminary very cautious take on the very first, and largely really inconclusive results, that the best response may be to revert somewhat to the near hibernation mode of sequestration we entered – some of us a great deal more devotedly and aggressively than others – when lockdown began in the United States in the first days of March 2020. One thing that seems already to trend so powerfully it is not likely to be moderated by more data, is that having been previously infected by any other strain of Covid does not protect the newly infected, or more pertinently the reinfected, unfortunate enough to have come down with the Omicron strain.

More children, being the most likely never to have been vaccinated, than adults are being infected with Omicron (one likely, certainly a possible, outcome of the evidence that reinfection is going to occur among adults who will then pass it unknowingly to their unprotected children). What’s not at all clear, and what represents the currently sought gold standard of a statistical index on the new highly transmissible and rapidly spreadable strain called Omicron, is to what extent vaccination protects either against infection altogether, or, at least, against highly threatening levels of infection in an individual. It has been clear for some time that all the forms of vaccine, but especially the Pfizer, the Moderna, and the Johnson, especially with a booster, help to mitigate the effects of infection and keep the symptoms mild and manageable.

So what accompanies the renewed wave of a very familiar type of feeling of anxiety, is a renewed hope that time will eventually reveal the positive efficacy of these vaccines. Secondarily, of course, there’s the hope that work that has already begun in the laboratories of the developers and vendors of the vaccines, will quickly produce a booster formulation that works against Omicron. More than ever before, the compelling need for far greater preventative measures on the part of the public, and not just health professionals, and a far greater commitment to the measures advocated from before the start of the continuing pandemic (now about to enter its third year) and consisting largely of the now familiar to all (whether followed or not) protocols of prophylaxis and social distancing, including, but not limited to, avoiding congested spaces, especially indoors, keeping a safe distance from others, going masked in the presence of others, and frequent hand washing, especially after contact with objects likely handled by others and with other individuals themselves.

For those of us who have only gradually and very cautiously moderated the curtailment of such measures and only under certain circumstances, the clamping down that now seems inevitable if there is any hope of avoiding a devastating level of resurgence of infections and the need for hospitalization for the most severely affected. It would not be the first, for sure, but it could be, at this stage of not knowing, one of the worst, of the three or four major surges that have crippled the economies of a number of countries and their populations.

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