Sunny Yu

Dr. Carlos Baez, physician specializing in family medicine, answers questions about the omicron variant.

Dr. Carlos Baez, physician specializing in family medicine

Questions about the COVID virus:

Question: Given the number of COVID cases that have been steadily rising due to the Omicron variant, there have been some rumors that contracting Omicron and getting better grants super immunity. Is this true?

Dr. Baez: That’s a very good question, and actually, we talked about that yesterday at our meeting with the other doctors. There is some natural immunity that you get from the current variant if you were to become infected. However, the booster gives you much more of a meaningful protection, so those people that do get infected and receive a booster vaccine later down the road do have a much better protection profile.

Question: It has also been said that most people are waiting for COVID to enter the endemic stage where it can be managed easier. Will this stage come from vaccinations and boosters or from the majority of people contracting Omicron and all the other strains?

Dr. Baez: I think both. I think this is going to turn into something very similar to the influenza virus, and COVID may become a seasonal disease that we have to deal with. But as we’ve noted looking in past pandemics and past infection histories, a lot of these viruses tend to weaken over time to the point where they are not causing massive pandemics. [This nature] becomes something that we have to deal with, such as the yearly influenza when it comes around, and we do also have the yearly flu vaccine, in which we try and manage those outbreaks with that as well. When COVID first came out, this was a new virus that nobody had any type of immunity to, that is why it wreaked so much havoc, but now, as the population increasingly becomes infected, there’s more of a chance that COVID is going to become endemic and not affect people as much at that point.

Question: How does the Omicron variant differ from the original virus?

Dr. Baez: If you look at it on the molecular level, it is just the protein coats that are different. As it is, Omicron is still just a variant of the COVID virus. However, because of the mutations that have gone on, the protein coat has changed slightly enough that it makes it viable as a variant and gives it a different presentation overall. We find that this Omicron variant impacts lung tissue much less than original COVID does. However, it is still causing significant disease, especially in those that are not vaccinated.

Question: Different variants have different symptoms, so how do you know when you get which kind of variant?

Dr. Baez: That is a very difficult thing to determine as far as what is causing it. We now believe in the United States, the Omicron variant is the dominant strain at this point in time. One thing that has been noticed, at least by the clinicians in our offices, is that COVID-19 seemed to cause a lot of significant respiratory damage on top of all the other typical upper respiratory infection symptoms. This Omicron variant appears to be causing more of an upper airway disease involving the sinuses, the ears, and the throat, which are very common symptoms. It still causes significant lung issues, however, not as much as COVID-19, and that is seen more in the vaccinated population. People that are not vaccinated still end up with significant respiratory issues.

Question: If someone contracts COVID and recovers, but they are living under the same roof with infected family members, can they still transmit the COVID virus to others outside the household who are not infected?

Dr. Baez: Yeah, that is highly unlikely. And a lot of that goes to what we said previously that when someone is infected, we know that at least for the first 90 days, they are not going to be infected. So at least for those first 90 days, it is highly unlikely that they are going to transmit that infection to someone outside of that household. And again, it is important to get that person vaccinated and boosted to minimize the possibility even further.

Question: Does the COVID virus spread through clothes or physical touch? 

Dr. Baez: COVID is transmitted more through respiratory secretions and close contact. It will not survive if it is just on a surface, but it does survive for a small amount of time. Just like HIV, it does not survive in the air. It needs a host to transmit. And in order for that to transmission to happen, someone would have to actively be shedding the virus, which means that they would be infected at that point. Now, if someone that is infected sneezes on a counter surface and someone touches that and takes it somewhere else, that is one possibility. But I do not expect that virus to survive outside of the host for a long time.

Questions about boosters/vaccinations:

Question: There have been also some sources that say the time period in between contracting COVID and getting the vaccine is important. Should individuals get boosted as soon as possible to have antibodies ready to fight the virus?

Dr. Baez: Yes, there’s a lot of information that’s out there, and some of it is misinformation. But if someone were to become infected, as soon as they are feeling better, it is recommended to get the booster shot at that point.

Question: How do COVID rules apply to those who recovered from it recently? Do they still have to follow the same testing and masking protocols as well?

Dr. Baez: That’s a good question. They definitely do have to follow the masking protocols just for general safety. But as far as testing goes, they should be out of the testing pool, at least for the first 90 days after being infected. There is strong evidence that there is significant protection at that point.

Question: What does the booster actually do, and is it possible for fully posted people to still COVID?

Dr. Baez: Yes, that’s a good question. We’ve seen two vaccinations previously, which gives you a certain amount of protection, can wane over time, and the booster shot serves to increase that percentage of protection. So that definitely is a good thing for people to consider getting now. Even though you are fully boosted, it is possible to get infected with COVID, including the Omicron variant. So, one thing people have to remember is that the vaccines do not prevent infection; what we’re gaining most from it is not becoming hospitalized or dying from the actual infection.

Question: So, during that time, is it very unlikely for someone to contract another strain or variant of COVID again?

Dr. Baez: That’s exactly correct. You know, undoubtedly there may be some new strains that will come down the road, but for someone to be infected with Omicron and get Omicron again, that is highly unlikely.

Question: Will there be a need for a new vaccine to fight Omicron? Or does the booster work fine for now?

Dr. Baez: The booster should work fine for now, however, as more variants come along over time, I foresee the vaccines being very similar to the influenza vaccine when they make flu shots; the scientists have to try and guess what type of variant may be coming about because of all the mutations. So, it is almost like a concoction of the different types of protein coats from the past that end up making the future of influenza vaccines. So that is why sometimes we have good flu shots and sometimes, not-so-effective flu shots. They are trying to guess at which type of protein coat may be more dominant in the strains that come about. I think that is going to be something very similar with COVID vaccines.

Question: Do certain people need more than three vaccinations?

Dr. Baez: Well, I think there’s definitely room for investigation. We have the two COVID vaccines, which initially we knew gave you about a 93 to 94% protection. The reason the booster came out was because that protection after approximately six months came down into about 40 to 50% protection. So there definitely is some science behind that. Whether a fourth or fifth vaccine is needed, I think still needs more evidence. And obviously we’re being guided by the CDC on that. However, there has been some reports that a possible fourth vaccine may be needed, but I think that’s what we spoke about on the whole cyclic nature of having to repeat these vaccines in the future.

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