Washington health officials discuss response to new COVID variant

Things will be handled with Omicron variant similar to the Delta variant.

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Washington’s public health officials have a clear message amid the spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus: Get vaccinated.

Washington state Department of Health officials gathered via Zoom on Dec. 1 to brief the public on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first case of the Omicron variant in the U.S. was confirmed Dec. 1 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the DOH briefing.

It’s only a matter of time before Omicron cases start to pop up, said health secretary Dr. Umair Shah. The severity and transmissibility of the new variant isn’t yet known, but the best way you can protect yourself is by getting vaccinated, Shah said.

“There are a lot of things that we don’t know about this new variant, but what we do know is that vaccines work,” Shah said.

The CDC changed the guidelines for booster shots in the face of the new variant, Shah said.

People over age 18 who received the Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago are eligible for the booster. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago, you are also eligible for a booster, Shah said.

You can mix and match the vaccines, so it doesn’t matter what booster shot you get — what matters is that you get it, Shah said.

“The boosters are so critical because we know that over time you have some loss of the effectiveness of vaccines,” Shah said.

If and when the Omicron variant is detected in Washington, not much will change as far as the state’s response, said state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist. Vaccines, masking, social distancing and testing are the tried and true tools for combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s response to the Omicron variant will be the same as its response to the Delta variant, Lindquist said.

Although data on the new variant is still coming in, it does appear to be more transmissible, Lindquist said.

King County cases, hospitalizations and deaths have all decreased in the last week, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard. However, cases could rise as people travel and visit friends and family over the holidays, said Dr. Lacy Fehrenbach, the deputy secretary for COVID Response.

“We are preparing that we might see some increases in cases in the days and weeks ahead following holiday related gatherings,” Fehrenbach said. “So we want to continue to urge you all to mask up.”

During the briefing, Lindquist and Shah said the natural immunity from getting COVID-19 is short lived and not as effective as the vaccines. People who already got COVID-19 earlier this year should still get vaccinated, they said.

People who got COVID-19 and never got vaccinated were two times more likely to get it again compared to those who came down with COVID-19 and then got vaccinated, Lindquist said.

To date, just over 80% of people over age 12 have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and 74.6% are fully vaccinated, according to the Washington DOH.

Approximately 117,000 kids between ages 5 and 11 have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, Michelle Roberts of the DOH said. The COVID-19 vaccine is around 90% effective at preventing cases in younger children, Roberts said.

You can watch the full briefing on TVW.org.


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