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Doing This One Thing Can Lead to Omicron

If you've made it, experts advise you to change that right away.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

Think you've been doing everything to keep yourself safe from catching the extremely contagious Omicron variant? Maybe not. In recent days, experts have emphasized that too many Americans have made one particular oversight can lead to an Omicron infection—potentially endangering those who are at risk for severe illness. If you've made it, experts advise you to change that right away. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Not Getting a Booster Shot Can Lead to Omicron

Close up shot of hands checking Covid-19 vaccine report card and ticking 3rd or booster dose after vaccination.
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Health experts have been befuddled and frustrated by the COVID pandemic at a number of turns. One is that, even today, not enough Americans have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. As of Feb. 5, that number stands at 64%, even though studies show full vaccination is highly protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID, even when it comes to the highly contagious Omicron variant. That ranks the U.S. behind 60 other nations. 

But more recently, experts are confused by another development: A surprisingly low number of Americans have gotten a booster shot, even though there's evidence the shots are clearly protective against contracting Omicron. The latest numbers as of Feb. 5: Only about half of people in the U.S. who are eligible for a booster have gotten one.

"Why would people who had enough understanding of the risk to go ahead and get a primary series—why we don't have more getting the booster? I don't have an easy explanation for that. That's one of the reasons why we keep trying to put the data out," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, last week.

Here's what that data says about how a booster shot can decrease your Omicron risk.

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2

Data: Booster Shots Protect Against Catching Omicron

Female Doctor hands holding vaccine bottle and syringe.
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According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in late January, people who got booster shot had a 66% lower risk of contracting a symptomatic Omicron infection, compared to people who had only received two doses of the vaccine. Other studies showed that booster shots slashed visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers by up to 80%.

Boosters confer crucial protection to people who are at high risk of severe illness or death, even if they've been fully vaccinated, like those over age 65. Although Omicron causes mild illness in most people, it still poses a serious threat to those groups. 

"This booster shortfall is one reason the U.S. has suffered more deaths over the past two months than many other countries," reported David Leonardt in The New York Times this weekend. "The most urgent problem involves the unboosted elderly … But some younger adults are also getting sick as their vaccine immunity wears off."

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3

What Aren't People Getting Boosters?

Doctor with a syringe of COVID-19 vaccine and a patient's hand refusing.
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Leonhardt points out that confusing government messaging about who should get boosters—originally they were only recommended for the elderly and people with certain underlying conditions before being expanded to all adult age groups—may have bred booster hesitancy.

But today, experts are clear. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, say every adult should get a booster shot.

In fact, this week, the CDC said that people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should get a second booster—a fourth dose overall of the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccines—at least three months after their first booster. People who got a Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get an mRNA booster at least 28 days after their initial shot, then a second mRNA booster at least three months after that.

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4

Omicron Super-Contagious, But Not Mild For Everyone

Sick woman laying in bed under wool blanket holding thermometer and tissue. Ill girl caught cold flu. Pills and tablets on table.
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The fact that Omicron was so contagious—many people who had avoided the virus this far contracted Omicron, and others saw vaccinated friends and family contract "breakthrough cases"—may have dampened enthusiasm for boosters.

But experts say data clearly shows that boosters protect against Omicron, from infection to severe illness and death. In fact, some experts say a third shot should no longer be considered a booster but part of the primary vaccine series. "The evidence is clear that it is at least a three-dose vaccine," public health expert Dr. Leana Wen wrote recently in The Washington Post

"I think we have to redefine fully vaccinated as three doses," Dr. William Schaffner, a CDC vaccine adviser, told CNN on Jan. 27. "I think it's the third dose that really gives you the solid, the very best protection."

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5

How to Stay Safe Out There

A mid adult woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth.
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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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