COVID fears, Biden's plan and omicron

COVID fears, Biden's plan and omicron

December 3, 2021

Dr. Siegel: We have tools now that can really protect us against omicron

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel encourages vaccine boosters to help protect against the emerging variant.

President Biden announced his five point winter plan to combat COVID on Thursday in remarks at the NIH. 

I was very glad to learn that his doesn’t include more lockdowns and shutdowns or school closures. Instead, he focused on: 

1. Expanding the nationwide booster program with more outreach. 

2. Opening new family vaccination clinics. 

3. Making free home tests more readily available, covered by insurance and with more central locations for the uninsured. 

4. Expanding the medical surge response team to respond to an increase in COVID cases. 

5. Expanding international support with a stated goal to “vaccinate the world.” 

Are these ideas useful? Yes. Will they solve our COVID problem or the tremendous collateral damage it has and will cause? Answer: no. 

Will Biden’s new plan quash the new variant or diminish our rising hysteria over this unknown risk? Answer – not quite.

We have a viral problem here in the United States, and it isn’t the new COVID variant, omicron. The much larger problem goes beyond COVID to the fear it creates. (More about that in a moment.) 

Don’t get me wrong, we certainly need to learn more about the virus and the new variant. Early indications from South Africa reveal that it is fairly spreading easily, there is a heightened reinfection rate, it can sometimes cause severe illness (data on hospitalizations are still emerging), but almost all those hospitalized are unvaccinated.  

In other words, being fully vaccinated likely offers substantial protection against this variant, especially if you have recently been boosted or have had the vaccine on top of having had COVID (a combination which offers substantial immunity). 

Early indications from Pfizer and elsewhere indicate that the smattering of antibodies produced by the vaccine will offer a significant level of protection against omicron, especially when it comes to severe disease.

I believe this protection will likely be augmented by a recent vaccine dose or recovery from COVID. The president didn’t provide a tangible plan on Thursday of how his administration plans to reach out to the 60 million Americans who are still completely unvaccinated here in the U.S. without shaming them or coercing them into compliance. US COVID-19 Vaccine Progress Tracker | Vaccinations by State | USAFacts 

I believe the best method would still be to get the vaccine into doctors’ offices like mine where a vaccine conversation, with a discussion about the cost/benefit, generally takes place.

Still to be determined is the omicron rate of reinfection, how rapidly this variant spreads, and how sick it makes particularly vulnerable groups such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions. But early indications from South Africa show a trend similar to prior waves from the delta variant, etc.

One additional hopeful sign is that the prior South Africa variant, known as the beta variant, also contained mutations that could have rendered it more easily transmissible and capable of evading immunity, but in the end, this variant never established itself around the world the way alpha and delta (from India) did. 

This may be in part due to the extensive surveillance system that South Africa has, enabling it to identify a variant earlier, when its risks are more theoretical (based on genetic mutations) rather than actual.

For many Americans the thought of potential infection with this new variant breeds fear. That’s a  terrain that’s been widely mined during this ferocious pandemic by politicians and the media alike. It doesn’t take much to get the fear juices flowing, and our leaders too often double down on this by introducing further restrictions. People over-personalize the risks from COVID when they are afraid, hence a single case in California, Minnesota or Colorado feels like there are many more and everyone worries they could be next.

Meanwhile, the real variant of concern remains delta, with averages over 100,000 new cases a day here in the U.S., with currently over 50,000 hospitalizations, and over 1,500 deaths. Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Improved vaccination rates among Americans hinge on more direct doctor/patient involvement rather than more superimposed mandates without a testing option or allowance for immunity due to disease recovery. 

We also need free rapid tests in every home in America provided by the Biden administration with a new public/private partnership patterned after Operation Warp Speed.

We need to combat omicron hysteria because it takes away from attention to delta and to COVID in general. 

Hysteria-driven pronouncements about omicron lead to distrust of the scientific process, which can then corrode into believability and compliance towards COVID and all SARS COV 2 variants. 

We certainly have no room for a variant that resembles “the boy who cried wolf.” Though I am concerned about the number of mutations to the coronavirus, I am reassured by the likely immune protection along with the emergence of the new oral anti-viral treatments. There is no overall sense right now that this variant is more dangerous than delta, perhaps even less

Fear is its own virus. We think we are rational creatures until we encounter the unknown, the unknowable, the potentially deadly. 

Our psyches have been badly damaged by this pandemic and we are afraid of being locked down or otherwise restricted all over again. 

I am glad that the president didn’t suggest this on Thursday, but still, the fear runs high. 

Omicron may end up being milder than delta, which would be a great public health development, but it is unlikely we would ever see a press conference to announce this.

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