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Omicron variant: Don’t wait to get a booster shot, doctors say

The World Health Organization says it’s reasonable to believe the vaccines will offer some protection against omicron. Booster shots also help fight other variants.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26 designated a new variant of COVID-19, named omicron, a variant of concern. Omicron was labeled a variant of concern because preliminary evidence suggests it may reinfect people more easily than other variants, according to the WHO.

Following the omicron variant of concern declaration, searches on Google in the U.S. spiked for “omicron booster.” Although little is currently known about the omicron variant, President Joe Biden and other government officials have urged people to get vaccinated or get a booster shot of authorized COVID-19 vaccines. 

But people have asked on social media whether they should get their booster shot as soon as they’re eligible or wait until it’s known the booster shot will protect against the omicron variant. 

THE QUESTION

Should you wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot that is proven effective against the omicron variant?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, you should not wait to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster that is proven effective against the omicron variant. Health organizations and doctors say you should get your booster shot as soon as you’re eligible. 

WHAT WE FOUND

The omicron variant was first reported to the WHO on Nov. 24 by South Africa. However, the origin of the variant is currently unknown. The first confirmed infection was from a sample taken on Nov. 9, the WHO said.

Much is still unknown about the variant, including how well the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines protect against it. But the WHO says, “it is reasonable to assume that currently available vaccines offer some protection against severe disease and death.”

As part of public health strategies aimed at preventing the spread of the omicron variant, the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise people to get vaccinated or get a booster shot. The CDC on Nov. 29 strengthened its booster shot recommendation in response to the omicron variant, saying all adults who received their second Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago or got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago should get a booster. 

Dr. Dan Fagbuyi, an emergency physician and a former Obama administration public health appointee, said people should get vaccinated now to get ahead of the omicron variant before it potentially becomes widespread.

“Go ahead and get your booster,” Fagbuyi said. “And for those who have not received the primary series of the vaccine, go ahead and get that now. You’re not waiting for the omicron variant.”

Dr. Saralyn Mark, the COVID-19 lead for the American Medical Women’s Association, says not only does getting vaccinated or a booster shot now potentially protect against the omicron variant, but it also protects against the delta variant, which is still the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S.

“We can't wait to have omicron on our shores, probably here, before we start acting because we have delta here right now,” Mark said. “Get your booster shots now if you’re medically able to do it.”

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson said they will test their vaccines against the omicron variant and, if necessary, develop an omicron-specific vaccine. The development process could take about three months, Moderna and Pfizer said.

What makes the omicron variant so concerning is that it has a high number of mutations, some of which have not yet been seen, Mark said. The WHO says there are 26-32 mutations just in the spike protein, the part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that binds to cells.

Preliminary evidence suggests some of those mutations may be associated with higher transmissibility, according to the WHO, but that’s not yet confirmed. It’s also not yet known whether the omicron variant causes more severe infections. Studies are underway to try to answer those questions.  

The WHO says the likelihood is “high” that the omicron variant spreads across the world.

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 30 said in addition to South Africa, the omicron variant had been reported in 13 European countries – Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – as well as Australia, Botswana, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, and Japan. The CDC has not yet reported a COVID-19 case with the omicron variant in the U.S.

Fagbuyi said the public health precautions millions of Americans have taken throughout the pandemic are still the best protection against any COVID-19 variant, including omicron.

“Nothing beats the vaccine and social distancing,” he said.

More from VERIFY: No, the COVID-19 vaccines can’t cause or create new variants

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