No, We Are Not "Post-Omicron."
Someone wrote an article the other day about how Canadian public transit mask mandates should be discontinued now that we're "post-Omicron." The problem with his premise is that we are still very much in a stage where Omicron and its subvariants are quite prevalent, and hospitalizations are rising because of them (for both adults and children). The article proposes that vaccine mandates for travel are keeping people from seeing their loved ones. I would think that the solution would be to get more people vaccinated and not put more folks' health at risk, but...what do I know?
Vaccines (and masks) are still important. Remember, vaccines were initially designed to prevent severe disease and hospitalization. They still do! But they do that best when everyone is vaccinated. Vaccines have never been an individual protection - they are community protection, which means the whole community must get vaccinated for them to do their best job of protection.
The other day I was debunking disinformative comments on Facebook and someone tried to say "with a majority of people vaccinated..." and tried to say that was proof that vaccines weren't effective. Except that we don't have a majority of people vaccinated.
We are at about 66% of the US Population with their "primary series" - one J&J vaccine or two mRNA vaccines. That was a goal a year ago. We have learned since then that this, like other childhood vaccines, is a multi-dose series - at least three doses, for those >50 or immunocompromised, a fourth dose. Barely 30% of the American population has gotten their third dose, which means barely 30% has cemented their immunity, which (from the primary series) is struggling against new variants.
You may have seen that one reason this latest surge is not rising quite as quickly is because Omicron infected a great many people, and some of that post-infection immunity (which is more temporary and less consistent than vaccine-mediated immunity) has protected people to some extent from BA.2, the current dominant variant. However, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5, other subvariants, are also here, and there is less protection from them, which is why some people have gotten infected multiple times in 2022 alone.
New variants and subvariants develop because the virus replicates more in human bodies which don't have immunity. This means the more unvaccinated or under-vaccinated people we have, the more likely this is to spread and create more variants, which are more likely to evade the immunity from our current vaccines. Because of that, infections do still happen. Even so, the vaccines do have some impact on preventing spread and infection, it’s just not great - but with a virus like this, every bit counts (and they are still highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even though we see breakthrough cases). So we need everyone to get vaccinated, and we NEED a vaccine for children under 5 (looking at you, VRBPAC)! Omicron and its subvariants have put more children in the hospital than they have the entire pandemic prior. Schools are being disrupted just like in Spring of 2020 (perhaps even more so, given that most of these closures are not planned).
We are in the next surge and if we want to keep it from getting as severe as January, we need to actually implement the strategies I’ve discussed repeatedly. The CDC re-engineered its maps as “Community Levels“ in a political move to make everything look rosier, but I discussed in a previous post why that will put us perpetually behind the ball. If you take a look at the old Community Transmission Levels, you'll see a different story of how dangerous of a spot we're in. Yes, cases don’t correlate with hospitalizations as strongly (since hospitalizations lag 2 weeks), but high transmission LEADS to those increased hospitalizations and then my job gets harder (because people get sick, and some die despite my best efforts).
I know what you're thinking: "We have treatments now! We don't need to be as worried about infection!" More in coming days on why that is not as simple as it seems.
In addition to all of that, don't forget that any infection, even an asymptomatic or mild one, can result in Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19, or Long COVID. This post is already long enough, but that is definitely one thing to discuss in the future, too.
Prevention is still preferable to treatment. So get everyone vaccinated, mask indoors (especially in workplaces or crowded events), and get ventilation in place for anywhere people congregate, and test yourself frequently.
Any time you’re going to be in a group setting without masks (dinner, concerts, etc.), you should test before you go. Insurance companies reimburse up to 8 tests per person per month. The forms aren’t hard to fill out, and the payment is processed fairly quickly. I've already done it once, going to be doing it again. That link will be below.
These seem like extra steps, but extra steps for prevention are EXTREMELY important to avoid consequences of COVID-19 infection.
I haven't posted about COVID in a bit because there have been many other things going on. I have more stuff on the non-COVID front to talk about as well, but the pandemic is still ongoing, and there is always more information coming to light to help us protect ourselves and each other. As always, I welcome your questions.
Get free COVID tests from the government (8 per person per month):
Should You Get A Booster?