TAMPA — “The big thing we want to do at this point is don’t let omicron become delta,” said Dr. Jill Roberts, Associate Professor a the University of South Florida College of Public Health.
That’s researchers’ biggest concern.
Delta is still the dominant COVID-19 variant in the United States but they worry omicron will be even more contagious and spread quickly.
At least 16 states have now reported at least one case of the omicron variant, and scientists say more will follow.
“Don’t let it do the damage that delta did. Get those vaccination rates high, get those antibody rates high and prevent that kind of thing from going on. That’s the only way we’re going to return to a sense of normalcy,” said Roberts.
Health officials are now pushing people to get their booster shots as soon as possible for fears of waning immunity.
“The higher the amount of antibodies you have, the less likely you’re going to have a breakthrough case, the faster you’re going to clear any type of infection and then you’re not going to spread it,” said Roberts.
As a reminder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just strengthened its recommendation on COVID-19 vaccine boosters.
“If you’re vaccinated in the original set of healthcare workers for example, you may have been vaccinated in December. We’re talking nearly 12 months here that antibody has waned badly between then and now. So it’s time to go ahead and boost and wake that immune system back up again,” said Roberts.
The CDC is encouraging everyone 18 and older to get a booster, whether it's 6 months after their Pfizer or Moderna 2-dose series or if it’s been 2 months after their Johnson & Johnson shot.
Researchers say the coronavirus is tricky because typically antibodies decrease significantly over time, which means regular COVID-19 shots could be in our future to limit mutations.
“It’s very likely coronaviruses are going to become endemic and this is going to become a thing. We kind of talk about how we have to do a flu shot every year. Well the companies have already put patents in to actually do a flu and COVID combined. So you can imagine where in the future we may be doing a booster shot once a year for both viruses,” said Roberts.
The U.S. is more equipped than ever before to deal with omicron. Scientists are working to learn more about the strain and even if it is able to circlet some of our current interventions, experts say we have all the tools to find new ways to fight it.
“There’s one concern with omicron that the monoclonal antibody treatments won’t work because the antibody has shifted but the companies will be able to change that monoclonal antibody and produce a product. That the science can move as fast as the virus is moving is pretty impressive,” said Roberts.