OAKLEY (KPIX 5) – A vaccination clinic in Contra Costa County on Monday took new urgency as health officials worldwide are monitoring the spread of the newly-discovered Omicron variant.
While the variant has not been found in the Bay Area or anywhere in the United States as of Monday, for the adults and children receiving vaccines at the Oakley Recreational Center, Omicron was on the minds of those getting their shots.
"Sounds like it could be pretty bad, hasn't really been around long enough for them to know enough about it," said Michael Walko, who got his booster shot at the clinic.
Contra Costa County Health, which held Monday's clinic, said it has 86% of its eligible population vaccinated against the virus. In the last month, as the outreach continues on children, they have vaccinated 28,000 children in the 5 to 11 age range.
"It's clinics like this today that really are in the neighborhood where people go, where people are familiar with, that are so important to really reach those people who are still need to get vaccinated," Contra Costa County Health Services Director Anna Roth told KPIX 5.
Parents said they already knew their children needed the vaccine before learning about Omicron but the new variant did frighten them thinking about how to keep their entire family safe from the virus.
"I was scared, I was stressed out, I was shocked," said Elvia Madrigal, who brought two children to the clinic.
Dr. Jorge Salinas is a hospital epidemiologist at Stanford and said Omicron reminds us that COVID-19 is here to stay and will keep infecting humans globally. His concern for now is vaccine equity as more variants are likely in the future.
"I think that the recommendations continue being the same," he told KPIX 5 on Monday. "There's not a single intervention that will be sufficient to prevent transmission, so you need ventilation, masks, vaccination."
Delta remains the dominant variant and is enough of a concern that the public should get vaccinated and receive a booster if eligible, Dr. Salinas said.
Across the Bay Area, the majority of cases are from the Delta variant.
He says for now the vaccines remain an important form of protection from Omicron and he will be closely watching to see how the vaccines continue to prevent severe disease and death.
Salinas also says South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, has become a model for how countries can detect a mutation early and help the rest of the world react to it.
"I don't think we're going to make this virus go away, we need to learn to coexist with it, defang it, make it as mild as possible," Salinas said.
Those at the clinic said they were going to keep the same response they have always followed when it comes to COVID-19. By participating in this event and receiving the necessary dose they need, they are doing their part for the community to control the virus.
"If you want things to get back to normal, you got to do the normal thing and get vaccinated," Walko told KPIX 5.
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