With a name that goes better with antivirus software, Omicron is the latest and greatest most amazing variant of the coronavirus – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away anytime soon.
Since we as a society have often followed this path, we unfortunately already know the important questions that we have to ask ourselves. For example, is it more contagious? More deadly? But most importantly, are we back to the beginning?
“I don’t think so,” said Danielle Scheurer, MD, Chief Quality Officer of MUSC Health System who oversees all vaccines for the hospital system. “This variant should definitely be taken seriously, but I think we will continue to be one step ahead because, as with any variant of this virus, those of us who are vaccinated will always have some level of immunity.”
Scheurer assumes that the current vaccine still offers some protection against Omicron and compared the current situation with that of the flu vaccine.
“Even if it’s a different strain, last year’s flu shot still gives you some protection from this year’s,” she said. “But remember that the realistic goal of vaccination is not to prevent infection with COVID. The realistic goal is to prevent serious illness from COVID. “
Since the virus and vaccine landscape is still changing, we Scheurer regularly ask about the latest questions that are pending.
Q. How likely is it that Omicron will end up here and elsewhere? Is it naive to believe that southern Africa can contain it?
A. I think it’s only a matter of time. It is already known in a dozen other countries. And I just can’t imagine a travel restriction doing anything. Stopping inbound flights from southern Africa isn’t really going to change the virus’ trajectory. I mean, Israel is suspending all incoming flights, so maybe this will work. But chances are it will land here, there, everywhere.
Q. Let’s just say we need a new vaccine to fight Omicron; How soon could a new vaccine be ready?
A. It’s hard to say. But I know Pfizer and Moderna are considering Omicron and ready to make another vaccine if needed. They advertise that they could do it pretty quickly. The real issue – as we have learned from the past – is production and sales.
Q. Speed lap: Who is currently eligible for a booster?
A. Anyone 18 years of age or older can get it; Pfizer is currently filing with the FDA for approval of boosters for children ages 16-17.
Q. Is the booster the same amount of vaccine as the previous two?
A. Pfizer is the same. Moderna is half the dose.
Q. Do the patients experience any noticeable side effects?
Not really. It was pretty similar to how people felt after the second dose.
Q. Do children get two doses for their first vaccination? If so, how far apart?
A. Yes, you get two. And children between the ages of 5 and 11 receive a third of the adult dose with an interval of three to four weeks. Children aged 12 and over receive the adult dose.
Q. Do children experience side effects similar to adults?
A. You seem a little less affected.
Q. Where can people get it?
A. There are still a ton of options, but the most popular still seem to be the Lockwood Site, Sumy Pavilion, and Rutledge Tower.
Q. Do people need to have a MyChart account to schedule an appointment?
Q. What is the difference between the vaccine and the pill?
Both have the same goal: to reduce the severity of an infection. But the pill is reserved exclusively for those who have already contracted the virus and are actively fighting it. They say it should cut hospital stays and deaths in half, at least for those at high risk of serious infections. The expectation is that an FDA review will come soon and then everything will become clearer. We heard there was going to be a federal distribution process, similar to the way we got the vaccine.
Q. How long do we think the vaccine will be good for?
A. It’s still so unknown. I think most people suspect that we need intermittent doses. I think since most people are used to the concept of the annual flu vaccine and a lot of people ditch that with this virus too. The year mark is easy to remember, but it may not be the exact time frame. We might find it is every 18 months or two years. Difficult to know at the moment.
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