As COVID-19 cases rise rapidly around the world, people are beginning to question the effectiveness rates of vaccines and boosters against the Omicron variant. Let’s make this clear: vaccines greatly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. That being said, a new study from Columbia University is finding that the Omicron variant is more resistant to vaccines than its viral counterparts. So what does this mean for the vaccines that we currently have?
Do Vaccines Protect you from Omicron?
Some research indicates that the Omicron variant poses a serious threat to existing COVID-19 vaccines. Researchers found that the vaccine’s neutralization ability is markedly diminished in the face of the new variant. Ugur Sahin, the CEO of BioNTech, has stated that the COVID-19 vaccine shots won’t be enough to halt the spread of the Omicron variant. Sahin suggested that “even triple-vaccinated [people] are likely to transmit the disease.” The various mutations of the virus have negatively affected the effectiveness rate of vaccines, bringing it down from 95 percent effectiveness to 70 to 75 percent.
However, other research found that vaccines and boosters provide reasonable effectiveness against the more contagious variant. Researchers separated their groups into: infected and vaccinated vs vaccinated only. They found that the level of neutralization of Omicron of the infected and vaccinated group was similar to the level of neutralization of the ancestral virus in the vaccination-only group.
What Does This Mean?
In short - the Omicron variant is more contagious and more resistant to the vaccine than previous variants of the COVID-19 virus. These findings suggest that while Omicron resists the vaccine’s protection against transmission, the vaccine can be reasonably effective against neutralizing the virus once you catch it.
In short, being vaccinated and boosted is the most effective way to keep you out of the hospital. However, if you want to be most protected from catching the virus, you also need to adopt other methods of preventing viral spread like wearing a lab-tested mask.
So... How Protected Am I, Really?
If you are fully vaccinated, you’re protected at an average level. Two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine offer a 70 percent rate of effectiveness in keeping you out of the hospital, but there is a significant decrease in how well vaccine antibodies target Omicron. This does not mean that you’re unprotected — it means that you are less protected from Omicron than you are from the other strains.
Getting a third vaccination shot, aka a booster, significantly decreases the risk of severe illness from Omicron. In other words, you are more protected from COVID-19 and all its variants with a booster, but, as always, the chance of catching it is never zero.
Remember: the vaccine may be less effective in terms of viral transmission, but it is more effective in preventing you from being severely ill.
Reminders for the Holiday Season
If you’re concerned about the variant’s contagiousness and testing positive, make it a point to go get tested regularly or before you attend any holiday parties. As the holiday season wraps up this year, remember to wash your hands, mask up, and social distance where you can. Stay safe, and if you have any questions, feel free to let us know!