COVID-19 vaccines play different but important role with omicron

·3 min read

For the past many months, government, businesses and community and health care organizations, including the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, worked to promote and provide COVID-19 vaccines.

The Reduce the Risk collaborative provided factual information around community resources as well. Subsequently, the El Paso vaccination rate is higher than the Texas state rate: 93% of the elderly are fully vaccinated in El Paso County (84% in Texas) and 75% of those 5 years and older are fully vaccinated (62% in Texas).

Vaccines were very helpful in preventing someone from contracting the alpha and delta variants, but this is less so with omicron. The omicron variant is the most contagious version of the coronavirus observed during this 2-year-long pandemic. And current vaccines do less to prevent omicron infection.

“However, vaccines are just as important as ever,” said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist and CEO of Sunset ID CARE.

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"One of the things that people are noticing is that even if they've been vaccinated, they're still getting sick," Alozie said. "We now have at least three population studies from Kaiser, from Denmark, and from the United Kingdom that showed that the vaccines that we got vaccinated with earlier in the pandemic, on average, aren't protecting against omicron. Omicron seems to be escaping the vaccines. Now that should be a sort of pump the brakes moment, because even though it seems vaccines aren’t preventing infections and people are experiencing symptoms, they are holding up against the virus by reducing the severity of the virus and keeping most people from being hospitalized."

Alozie said while omicron is more contagious, it is less severe for most people due in large part to vaccinations.

“Is it less severe in everybody? Absolutely not,” Alozie said. “There's still going to be people at risk, but on average it's less severe than the other variants."

El Pasoans must be aware of the effectiveness of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. “If you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine more than six months ago, you are essentially unvaccinated,” Alozie said. "It's important that if you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and that's your only shot, you must get another shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or an mRNA shot."

Those who are elderly, have an underlying health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, or had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should consider getting an mRNA vaccine or booster. Both Moderna and Pfizer are approved mRNA vaccines and are preferred by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“Anyone who gets a shot of the mRNA vaccine after originally getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should consult with their doctor to see if a second mRNA shot or booster shot is later needed,” Alozie said.

The risk of contracting the virus remains high and vaccines are still the best way to reduce the severity of illness and avoid being hospitalized.

For more information on COVID-19 and vaccinations, visit reducetherisk915.org.

Dr. Michael Kelly is vice president of programs for the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and may be reached at mkelly@pdnfoundation.org and 915-218-2619.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: COVID-19 vaccines play different but important role with omicron

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