Yet another variant of the coronavirus has popped up in the battle against COVID-19. The Omicron variant, which is said to spread more easily than previous versions of the virus, is the “main variant” on the scene according to Dr. Matt Pflieger, Huntington’s public health officer.
“COVID-19 is going to keep having variants,” Pflieger says. “It’s just a virus that can mutate, or change a lot, because of the way that it replicates. So you’re going to keep seeing variants, and we’ve seen this arc of having Alpha and then Delta and now Omicron as kind of the main variant that we’ve seen.”
Right now, health officials like Pflieger are still trying to figure out just how this particular variant will affect patients compared to how previous variants have.
“For most people, we think it’s going to be mild, cold-like symptoms,” Pflieger says. “However, we don’t know what that is going to look like still in the over-50-years-old crowd, and those with chronic illnesses and those without a vaccination status. That’s what we’re waiting to see, and that’s why we’re still trying to take reasonable precautions in life to not spread illness and virus.”
There are several factors that can play a role in how COVID-19 will affect a person. Age, prior health issues, as well as whether or not a person has been vaccinated or not can all play a part in how the virus may affect a person. Pflieger explains that even a fully vaccinated person can still get the virus and become sick with COVID-19, but that the severity of the illness will most likely be far less than it would be if the patient were unvaccinated.
“If you’ve just been vaccinated, you’ve still got some really great ability to prevent severe disease,” Pflieger says, “but you still may get sick even with Omicron because the vaccines weren’t designed to prevent illness, they were designed to prevent severe disease. I think we’re going to hear more people who are (saying) ‘I got vaccinated and now I’m sick,’ and instead of saying the vaccine didn’t work – what really happened is that the vaccine really did work. It kept you from getting severe disease and kept it at a mild case. So, your body was able to recognize the virus quickly and you’re able to move on and you’re less likely to shed that virus to other people.”
Another way to combat severe disease – at least for those who have been vaccinated – is by getting a booster vaccine. Up until recently, the booster vaccines were available for those age 18 and up, but the age range was recently lowered.
On Wednesday, Jan. 5, the Indiana Department of Health announced that Hoosiers age 12 to 15 who had already received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least five months ago are now eligible to receive a booster dose following approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. According to an Indiana Department of Health press release, the FDA amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine “to allow a single dose booster dose for people aged 12 to 15” and the CDC also endorsed the recommendation.
The press release also stated that “booster doses have been shown to increase protection from hospitalization and death against the highly infectious Omicron variant, which is fueling a surge in cases across the country.”
The Indiana Department of Health also shared that data out of South Africa and the United Kingdom show that two doses of a Pfizer vaccine provide approximately 35 percent protection against the Omicron variant, but that a booster dose increases that protection against infection to 75 percent.
Pflieger cautions those that are weary about the vaccines to not look at the need for boosters as an abnormality.
“To put (things) into perspective, a lot of vaccines need boosters,” he says. “Hepititus B needs three doses. MMR needs two doses.”
Another example is the vaccination that protects against diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough, or pertussis, which needs a booster every 10 years.
“There are a lot of vaccines that need boosters and doses in different regiments,” Pflieger says. “So just because you need a booster, it doesn’t mean it isn’t working. It’s just that some vaccines need boosters.”
Due to new guidelines from the CDC, the Huntington County Health Department has released a new flow chart that establishes guidelines to follow in case of exposure and/or a positive test result.
“We understood that shortening that (quarantine) timeframe was fitting with the science,” Pfliger explains. “You’re not spreading this for a really long time, so even 10 to 14 days of quarantine are not really necessary at this point.”
Pflieger says that there are different ways to have maximum immunity – whether someone has had a booster vaccine, has recently received their second dose of the vaccine or had a recent infection, quarantine isn’t completely necessary after an exposure.
“We hope that it’s more useful to people,” Pflieger says. “It shortens the window and gets people back to work a little sooner.”
Anyone who would like to schedule an appointment for a booster vaccine may do so online through pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens. The local Huntington County Health Department also has appointment times that may be scheduled, and there is an upcoming opportunity for testing as well as first, second and booster doses of vaccines at the Huntington City Building.
The mobile clinic event will take place on Saturday, Jan. 15, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the city building, 300 Cherry St. Interested parties may walk in the day of, or may schedule ahead by calling 2-1-1 or visiting ourshot.in.gov. Those that attend the mobile clinic are asked to use the rear parking lot entrance.
Free testing, as well as Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations will be given. See cdc.gov/coronavirus for eligibility.