MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Omicron is the latest COVID-19 variant detected, and it is causing concern.
The data is preliminary, but it appears to be highly contagious, possibly more than delta.
Omicron was detected by scientists in South Africa, but it is still unclear where it originated.
"This variant has been detected in multiple countries around the world, including recently Canada, and Canada has a better detection system than we do, so it would be folly not to think that it's already here," said Dr. Bernard Ashby, the chief medical officer at Comprehensive Vascular Care.
He said, although it has not been found in South Florida yet, that does not mean it is not of concern. Dr. Ashby said what people can do is protect themselves with the tools available now.
"One, is to get vaccinated and get a booster, if you haven't already done so," he explained. "And, two, have a plan of action to get tested as soon as possible and get treated as soon as possible, because that is what will likely save your life."
Monday, the CDC updated their booster recommendation to anyone over the age of 18. People are eligible six months after the second dose of a two-part series, or two months after the single dose of Johnson and Johnson.
For those wondering if they should wait and see what happens with omicron, Dr. Ashby said do not put it off.
"Waiting to get your booster is a bad idea," he said. "One, is because the predominant strain in South Florida is still the Delta variant, at this particular moment, and that has the greatest immediate threat to you. We know that folks who have gotten a booster have a greater protection against the Delta variant. Two, the pandemic has taught us that we cannot predict what this virus is going to do."
The more COVID is able to continue to spread, the more mutations can come as a result.
"There's no reason that people can't get another booster in the future. In fact, it's looking like we are going to be needing boosters sometime in the future anyway, because SARS-CoV-2 is not leaving the globe," said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, epidemiology chair and professor at FIU.
She also encourages parents to get their children vaccinated, particularly with the holiday season in full swing.
"The group where we have our lowest vaccinations are among younger individuals," she explained. "In terms of being able to stay in school, have a normal school year, it is extremely important for children to be vaccinated for their benefit."
The World Health Organization said omicron poses a "very high" global risk. President Joe Biden travel restrictions in place, banning travelers from South Africa and seven other countries
"This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic," the president said. "We have the best vaccines in the world, the best medicine, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day."
Biden also said he did not think shutdowns or lockdowns would be necessary. However, the health experts we spoke with say it is just too soon to make predictions.
"There's always a risk that the new variants could lead to more serious illness and be more resistant to the vaccines that we have," said Dr. Trepka. "That's why it's so critical that we all do our part to get vaccinated to help prevent that."
Another concern of omicron is not just the efficacy of vaccines, but also the treatment of the virus. This means things like monoclonal antibodies could potentially be rendered less effective. More data will be analyzed over the next few weeks.
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