Parts of the US were already bracing for a harsh winter even before Omicron. A combination of cyclical variables and high vaccination rates kept COVID transmission rates in the Northeast and Great Plains areas under control this summer.
That was just Delta. The weather and human dynamics shifted the disease load northward for the holidays. That seasonal wave could turn into a tsunami with the introduction of an immune-evading variant.
The president quickly adopted this poor choice of words after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky declared COVID a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” A horrifying amount of logical faults are soon to be revealed. Not surprisingly, those who aren’t immunized will bear the brunt of future hazards. We can no longer deny the vaccine epidemic.
The lifestyles of the 60% of fully vaccinated Americans may soon change dramatically. They were essentially bulletproof for most of the summer and fall if they had two Pfizers, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson doses.
While hospitalization and death are uncommon, preliminary results from South Africa and Europe suggest that two vaccination doses alone may still allow for numerous outbreak infections and rapid disease spread. Treated with three doses, or two doses + COVID appears to be more protective.
That’s enough evidence for Yale Institute for Global Health Director Saad Omer to change the CDC’s definition of full immunization, Omer says. We should strongly encourage everyone to get boosters now that Omicron and the data are available.
A third dose is only given to about a quarter of adults who are completely immunized. Surviving vaccinated but unboosted, there are about 150 million people because they are less immune, they are more likely to infect unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children, as well as unvaccinated or immunologically compromised adults.
They’ll also be more likely to spread the coronavirus between unvaccinated people and may be at risk of spreading the virus in places that look safe for them—like restaurants or theaters that carefully enforce vaccination requirements. Large indoor gatherings of fully vaccinated people may become super-spreader events in the age of Omicron, according to reports.
People who were previously protected by prior infection may now be susceptible to reinfection and disease transmission, according to Omer. Communities that were hit hard by the virus and had high vaccination rates may be the only ones spared community transmission. That makes disease modeling at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center difficult.
This means that while fully vaccinated people are at low risk of major illness or death from COVID this winter, the social fabric around them may begin to sag.
The toxic shock might cause “overwhelmed hospital systems,” according to Samuel Scarpino of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. In spite of the low hospitalization rate, millions of individuals may need a bed.
An emergency situation involving millions of people would be dangerous. It’s difficult to get workers and ventilators to hard-hit areas since Omicron is so contagious, according to Schiffer and Scarpino.
Health care employees are retiring in droves in certain regions, leaving ICU capacity limited. Scarpino warns that if the situation does not improve, people will die in hospital halls. Schiffer said the likelihood of an increase in hospitalizations keeps him awake at night.
If Omicron causes considerably milder sickness than Delta, and the vaccines’ protection against the severe disease remains strong, all of this would be reduced. But that is unlikely. Cases are almost certain to rise in both highly and poorly vaccinated areas, disrupting daily life in both.
Case rates might trigger fresh shutdowns in locations with enough political will, Schiffer said. Even fully vaccinated people must stay home for 10 days after a positive test. To care for their sick children, their parents may have to take time from work.
Major interruptions caused by rising Omicron cases this winter may drive Americans to reevaluate these methods, according to epidemiologist Jon Zelner of the University of Michigan.
Omicron’s repercussions will be far more severe for non-vaccinated Americans. Mass death and even greater anguish could result in areas with low vaccine coverage and significant anti-shutdown sentiment. Rural, impoverished, and minority populations will undoubtedly be hit the hardest, on average. It is unvaccinated who will be most at risk.
Also, those who cannot quarantine or simply hide when the numbers appear to be too high,” Zelner said will be affected. Working several jobs may not allow time for boosters or sick days. As a result, people who live in areas that aren’t well-served by hospitals will have more trouble finding a bed and will get less good care if they get sick.