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Health officials emphasized this week the importance of vaccinations against COVID-19 – both booster shots and initial doses – as the new omicron virus variant arrived in the United States.
Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that it was “inevitable” that the variant would arrive in Washington following news earlier in the week that the first omicron variant case had been found in California. Omicron cases have now been identified in other states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened its recommendation on booster shots Monday with the emergence of the variant, saying that everyone ages 18 and older should get a follow-up shot when they are six months clear of an initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“You should – underline, bold, capital, italics – you should get a booster,” said Kitsap Public Health District Health Officer Dr. Gib Morrow. “If anybody’s six months out on a mRNA vaccine and is 18 years of age or over, they definitely should go get a booster.”
“It’ll be here,” he said of omicron. “I expect it’s going to, in all likelihood, contribute to some of the cases and perhaps an uptick in case activity.”
Inslee said that the state would be receiving tens of thousands of additional vaccine doses to meet the demand for boosters.
Inslee said, “…almost with a certainty you will be better off with the vaccine than without it against the omicron virus," noting that there could be additional measures the state may take to boost the vaccination rate.
"Thirty four percent … of Washingtonians today are walking around with a time bomb in their backpack, because they’re not vaccinated," he said. "And we’ve been fortunate to date having some declining numbers, but that’s not a certainty, particularly with this new variant.”
Plenty of questions remain unanswered about omicron, but early data suggests that it may spread more easily than other variants, including delta, according to the CDC. Due to limited data, the current severity of illness and death associated with the new variant is yet unclear, the CDC said, noting that some monoclonal antibody treatments may not be as effective against omicron infection.
Said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases: “…The big question I have about this is, how effective are the vaccines going to be? And we don’t know the answer to that question yet."
Other outstanding questions include the effectiveness of new antiviral medicines and monoclonal antibodies in treating omicron infections, he said.
"A lot of this, we are all waiting, we’re talking weeks before we start getting some of this information," he said.
The omicron news comes as cases both statewide and in Kitsap have slowly subsided following a brutal delta wave peak in mid-September. For the first time since late July, Kitsap’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents dropped below 100 in late November. As of Nov. 28, that number had hit 80.
Morrow described the downward trend as a “slow ebb tide cycle,” and while virus activity is still high, he noted, “It’s waning, and that’s a good thing.”
In Kitsap, a little more than 60% of the total population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Kitsap Public Health District’s vaccination dashboard.
Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, email@example.com or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.
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This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: As omicron arrives, health officials stress vaccination