What do I need to know about the omicron variant? Advice from Swedish caregivers to help you stay safe.

In this article:

  • Omicron is more contagious than the original virus that causes COVID-19. Even those who are vaccinated and without symptoms can spread the virus.  

  • Experts agree that getting vaccinated, getting your booster and following safety precautions, including masking, social distancing and following local public health guidance for gathering safely, are the best ways to protect yourself and your family.

  • Swedish is monitoring developments and we are prepared to respond to public health needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic. 

Scientists and public health officials are continuing to learn more about the the omicron variant of the coronavirus every day. By late January, the U.S. Centers for Disease control estimated that omicron made up approximately 99.7% of all new infections in the United States.

Omicron was first identified in Botswana and South Africa in November. Shortly after, the World Health Organization (WHO) designating it the omicron variant and naming it "a variant of concern" and since then the variant has been identified in more than 169 countries, with the first 43 cases in United States identified on December 10.  

 What do we know about the omicron variant? 

  • The CDC is working with state and local health officials to monitor the spread of omicron.
  • Omicron is similar to other mutations, but critical differences are worrisome. Evidence suggests that omicron can spread more easily than the original COVID-19 virus. The CDC expects that anyone with an omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated and without symptoms. 
  • In initial cases, South African physicians described symptoms linked to omicron—including a scratchy throat, tiredness, body aches and headache—as extremely mild, noting the absence of classic COVID symptoms like loss of taste and smell.
  • While immunity from previous infections provides protection against severe disease, immunity from previous infections seems to do little to stop omicron. Researchers in England have estimated that the risk of reinfection with omicron is about five times that of other variants. 
  • Researchers are still trying to figure out what omicron will do in the coming months. We do know that the variant is highly transmissible and particularly good at evading immune responses.
  • Even with its milder symptoms and lower number of cases requiring hospitalization, the variant could drive a surge much bigger than those we've previously experienced, with more seriously ill patients requiring treatment. 
What should I do to protect myself and my family from the omicron variant?
  • Get fully vaccinated. Everyone in your household over the age of 5 who is eligible should be fully vaccinated.
  • Get your booster. Vaccinated people 16 and older should receive a booster  

Jan. 5, 2022 update: The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to expand eligibility for booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children and adolescents, 12 to15 years of age. The CDC also now recommends that adolescents 12 to 17 years old should receive booster shots 5 months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.  

Jan. 31, 2022, update: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted full approval to Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine. The approval means that the Moderna vaccine meets the FDA's rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventon, Moderna' vaccine is recommended for people age 18 and older and should include a booster shot five months after the initial series.

March 29, 2022, update: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the Emergency Use Authorizations for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to include a second booster dose for people 50 years of age or older and certain immunocompromised individuals. For immunocompromised individuals, Moderna is available for those 18 years of age and older, Pfizer is available for those 12 years and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would update its vaccine guidance to reflect the FDA’s decision.

 

“The most important things anyone can do to protect themselves from COVID is to get fully vaccinated and then when you’re eligible, get your booster,” says Chris Dale, M.D., chief medical officer of acute care at Swedish. “You should continue to wear a mask and practice appropriate handwashing and social distancing. It’s critically important we follow guidelines.”
What is Swedish doing to help protect patients and the community?
  • Swedish is monitoring developments and we are prepared to respond to public health needs, as we have done throughout the pandemic. 
  • Swedish continues to work with other partners and the City of Seattle to offer free and accessible COVID-19 vaccinations, including pediatric vaccinations, in downtown Seattle at the Amazon Meeting Center. Visit www.seattle.gov/vaccine for more information on locations, hours of operation, and eligibility and help spread the word to your friends and family. 
  • Several Swedish locations are offering COVID-19 vaccinations for patients age 5 and older, including our Pine Lake Universal Response Clinic, Downtown Primary Care and Mill Creek Primary Care. Visit our website for more details.
  • Preparing all Swedish campuses for patients and an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
  • Swedish is making every effort to provide the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 and vaccines. Be sure to visit our blog for the latest updates.

“We are making sure we have adequate supplies and doing everything we can to educate the community about how to stay safe, especially during the holidays,” says Evan Sylvester, regional director of infection prevention at Swedish. “Much of the information we have right now is preliminary, so we can’t make assumptions on how vaccines will respond, but it is very likely they will provide some measure of protection. Local and state testing facilities will also need to increase our surveillance and sequencing, so we have a better understanding of this variant. And of course, we are continuing to remind people to reduce their risk by wearing masks, practicing good hand hygiene and physical distancing, avoiding crowded spaces, and most importantly, getting vaccinated and getting your booster.”  

Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish ExpressCare Virtual connects you face-to-face with a practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.

Additional resources

New COVID-19 safety guidance from the Washington State Department of Health for high contact indoor sports

What to know about the delta variant: Infectious disease experts weigh in

COVID-19 vaccines: FDA approval, third dose for immunocompromised and boosters

Flu and COVID-19 vaccine facts: What you need to know

How sick can kids get from COVID-19?

Keep kids healthy, safe with recommended vaccines

 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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