Reports so far indicate that the variant is causing mild symptoms and not leading to notably increased hospitalizations or deaths in vaccinated individuals. Furthermore, the latest data from BioNTech (BNTX) and Pfizer (PFE) suggest that a three-dose regimen — essentially getting a two-dose Pfizer vaccination and then a booster — was able to neutralize the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test.
Consequently, one physician isn’t as concerned as he was before vaccines were publicly available.
“We’re fully vaccinated now,” Dr. Calvin Sun, a New York City-based emergency medicine physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “Last year, there was no vaccine made available to the public. Therefore, if something like Omicron came around last year without a vaccine, it’s like driving down a highway when it’s about to get busier and busier without a seatbelt made available to us.”
Sun reiterated that getting vaccinated is like wearing a seatbelt in a car — the seatbelt doesn’t guarantee you won’t get injured in an accident, but it does significantly reduce those chances. The same goes for those who get vaccinated.
“This year has a lot more reassurance since we have working seatbelts,” he said. “We had a year of research of all of us wearing seatbelts. And it’s been working out so far.”
'Like hearing that there’s going to be a car pile-up'
Vaccines have made a significant difference in reducing the number of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths. The problem, though, is that not everyone is choosing to get vaccinated in the U.S.
Currently, 60.1% of the total population in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, while 71.2% have received at least one dose, according to CDC data.
Andy Slavitt, the former senior advisor on the White House coronavirus response team, recently stated that the Omicron variant poses a much more significant risk for the unvaccinated. In South Africa, where the variant was first reported, more and more children who are under the age of 5, and therefore ineligible for vaccines, are being hospitalized due to the variant.
“Where we stand right now is that most of the people who are unvaccinated are the ones being hospitalized, at least 85% from the emerging data,” Sun said. “It’s actually showing that the disease with at least the predominantly fully vaccinated is a mild course if you are to be infected. But for the fully unvaccinated, the chances of being hospitalized are way higher.”
All three of the main vaccine manufacturers — Pfizer, Moderna (MRNA), and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) — have said they are researching the variant closely and may potentially develop a vaccine to specifically target Omicron.
On Wednesday, Pfizer announced that all three doses of its vaccine regimen (the two initial doses, plus a booster) were shown to be effective in producing antibodies against Omicron.
According to the vaccine maker, its booster shot “increases the neutralizing antibody titers by 25-fold compared to two doses against the Omicron variant.” Additionally, the booster provides antibodies that are just as strong as those from the first two doses of the vaccine developed for the original strain of the coronavirus.
Still, even if you are vaccinated and boosted, Sun emphasized practicing caution against the new variant, especially since there is data still emerging.
“It should be a concern,” Sun said. “It’s like hearing that there’s going to be a car pile-up down the highway, so do your best by putting on those seatbelts. Get boosted. Do your best before you get there. It may be worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet. We just do our best as we get to that point.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at email@example.com.