• Sarah Schafer, MD

Covid boosters and Omicron

The latest Covid-19 variant, Omicron, is rapidly spreading. It will soon replace the Delta variant in the U.S. and across the world. Even if Omicron turns out to cause milder disease than Delta (this is unclear), it can still be severe. Right now it is causing a surge in hospitalizations in the U.K. and South Africa, especially among the unvaccinated. In the U.S., it is likely that many hospitals will be unable to care for every person with a medical emergency because they are overwhelmed by Covid patients. Most hospitalizations and deaths occur in the unvaccinated. Some U.S. hospitals in Covid hotspots are already in crisis standards of care because of the Delta surge and understaffing. This means that patients who need ICU care may not get it. Others with life-threatening emergencies will be turned away altogether. It is important for yourself and your community to do everything you can to avoid infection.

The good news: the currently available vaccines provide partial protection against Omicron especially for those who have had a booster*.

*I use the imprecise term, “booster,” because it is commonly used to describe the latest dose in the primary series of Covid immunizations. The understanding of the optimal vaccine schedule changes as researchers study vaccine effectiveness over longer perids of time frames and learn information about new variants.

The take home message

  • If you are eligible for another Covid vaccine or even if you are just getting started, now is the time to get vaccinated.

  • Right now, being fully vaccinated means having another dose of an approved Covid vaccine after the original two doses of mRNA vaccine or one dose of J&J vaccine. As of December 16, 2021, mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) are recommended by the FDA for the booster dose.

  • Vaccines are key, but other measures such as high-quality masks, ventilation/HEPA filters, and avoiding crowds are also important for preventing spread.

The details

Why get a booster? Vaccine effectiveness wanes over time. According to this recent MedPage Today article, two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less protective against Omicron compared with Delta, but a booster shot restored immunity back to high levels.

See Dr. Eric Topol’s bar graph in this article to see the difference that being fully vaccinated can make.

Long-Covid Covid-19 infection outcomes are not simply death vs. survival and recovery. Approximately 30% of people with Covid infections go on to develop long term, disabling symptoms. This is known as long-Covid or Post-Covid 19 syndrome. A recent study by Brito-Zeron et al (preprint) shows that 57% of Sjogren’s patients who had Covid develop long term health symptoms following the infection.

The best way to avoid long-Covid is to avoid infection in the first place.

If you have vaccine questions or concerns, please watch this recent Sjogren’s Foundation Town Hall and check the CDC website which is frequently updated. This situation is rapidly evolving. This blog post has been written and fact-checked as of December 17, 2021.

Please take care of your health and wellbeing- no one wants Covid as a holiday surprise!

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