Booster shot: Omicron will ‘rip right through un-boosted population,’ says expert

By Lee Cleveland - December 31, 2021

Omicron has been in the news for just 3 weeks, but the variant is already the Unites States’ COVID-19 dominant strain, responsible for 73% of U.S. cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

But what about those who have had their preliminary shots and Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine? Will it be enough to stave off Omicron?

Here’s the bad news

Not only is Omicron about twice as contagious as delta, but a recent study conducted on the new variant by world-renowned virologist and Columbia University professor Dr. David Ho also shows that it is very resistant to antibodies, even those found in fully vaccinated people who aren’t yet boosted.

″[Omicron] is going to rip right through the population,” says Ho.

“Those who are vaccinated and boosted are largely going to do OK, even if infected. Those who are vaccinated and not boosted probably will have it slightly worse. But I really fear for those who are not vaccinated,” Ho told CNBC.

As of December 21, 204 million Americans were fully vaccinated — 62% of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but only 30% of those fully vaccinated people had gotten a booster shot.

What justifies eligibility for a booster shot?

Those who took the Pfizer or Moderna are eligible for a booster six months after their second dose. And folks who opted for Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine are booster-eligible after just two months.

How much do boosters protect against omicron infection?

Scientists aren’t 100 percent sure as lab studies are still being conducted as you read this, but things look very promising this far.

Recent data suggests that Pfizer’s booster provides roughly 75% protection against symptomatic omicron infection and 85% protection against severe disease and hospitalization, according to Dr. Ho.

So, if you take the booster and test positive, you’re likely to experience few, if any, symptoms. And you’re even less likely to be sick enough to be hospitalized. But if you’re fully vaccinated minus the booster, expect to feel “More fatigued. More fever. More coughing. A little more miserable overall,” Craig Spencer wrote on Twitter.

But there is a caveat to the booster….

Caution to the newly boosted

Per JAMA Internal Medicine, if you’ve been boosted 6 days or less your chances of getting infected with COVID are almost as high as someone who hasn’t had a booster at all.

“If you only got your booster a day ago, then you might as well not have it at all,” said Benjamin tenOever, PhD, a professor in the microbiology department at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

The good news: Via MedPageToday, Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, insists that even if a newly-boosted individual contracts the virus just before or right after their shot, it won’t likely interfere with the booster’s longer-term effects even though there’s a good chance they’ll still have symptoms if they are infected within a week of it.

“I suspect it’s not going to be a major effect other than that you might be contending with more symptoms from the vaccine and from the infection that you have at the same time,” Adalja said. “It could be more unpleasant than normal.”

Ideally, one should be COVID-free when getting the booster but it’s not a prerequisite

For the above reasons and according to the updated guidelines, “People with COVID-19 who have symptoms should wait to be vaccinated until they have recovered from their illness and have met the criteria for discontinuing isolation.”

“The longer the time between your booster and seeing an actual virus, the better off you are, because you’ve given your immune system that much more time to explore different spaces and ways to stop the virus,” tenOever said via MedPageToday.

Just get the damn shot

Above all, experts stress the importance of simply getting vaccinated and subsequently boosted.

“Just get your booster,” said Simone Wildes, MD, an infectious disease physician at South Shore Health in South Weymouth, Massachusetts via MedPageToday.

“I want to make sure that the word gets out that the data are clear: the two-dose vaccine is not going to be effective against the Omicron variant, which is already here.”

Access CDC guidelines.