If we think of a disease as something that is sending us a message that we need to incorporate into our individual and collective lives, we get a much different view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So far, our attempts at integrating COVID-19 into our existence have been met with one surprising turn after another. The rapid rise of the Omicron variant is just the latest twist in the pandemic story. And, it follows the rise of the Delta variant which led to a previous new wave of infections.
The Delta variant seemed to increase significantly so-called breakthrough infections, that is, COVID infections in people believed to be fully or partially vaccinated, something which has flummoxed the medical community and public health officials. Still, those receiving a vaccine have far lower rates of hospitalization and mortality than those catching COVID who have not been vaccinated.
We don’t yet have enough information to know just how well vaccines will fare against the Omicron variant. One early report is creating concern. Cornell University has closed its main campus in response to a rapid rise in COVID cases caused by the Omicron variant. And, this is a place where 97 percent of the people on campus are said to be “fully vaccinated.”
We do know that protection from COVID vaccines fades with time (usually within months) and hence the emerging recognition of the need for frequent boosters. And, the public now understands that vaccines neither guarantee freedom from infection nor prevent those vaccinated from spreading the virus even if they are asymptomatic. Risk of individual infection and community spread is considerably lower, but it is not zero. The easy-to-spread Omicron variant is doubling its cases every 1½ to 3 days.
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