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Omicron: 'The good news is that we have the tools,' doctor says

Confirmed coronavirus cases recently surpassed 50 million in the U.S., and the omicron variant is adding complexity to the pandemic's second winter.

The rate of newly confirmed cases is rising, and health experts are urging the world to double down on vaccines and other preventative measures to mitigate transmission.

“I think the good news is that we have the tools to fight omicron,” Dr. Asha Shah, Stamford Health director of infectious diseases, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “We’re in a very different position now than where we were at the beginning of the pandemic. We have great vaccines, we have testing, and we have masks. And all three of those things are effective in preventing the spread of COVID.”

Though there is still much unknown about the new variant, preliminary data has indicated that while it may be more transmissible than the delta variant, it does not appear to cause serious illness in fully vaccinated and boosted individuals.

“So for unvaccinated individuals, they’re still at risk,” Shah said. “And this continues to be a disease of the unvaccinated. And we try to encourage all of those folks to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Get boosted

There are currently 61.1% of the total population who are fully vaccinated and 72.3% who have received at least one dose. Additionally, about 27.6% have received a booster shot as immunity wanes.

“What’s important for everyone to do is to go out and get your booster,” Shah said. “If you’ve been fully vaccinated, partially what we’re seeing is that the vaccines, there's waning immunity perhaps over a course of six months, seven months after your second dose. Getting a booster really helps to prolong the duration of that immunity.”

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the booster doses from Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA) produces sufficient antibodies to combat the omicron variant.

"Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron," Fauci said during a media briefing. "At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster."

A woman takes a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a pop-up testing site in New York City, U.S., December 16, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
A woman takes a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a pop-up testing site in New York City, U.S., December 16, 2021. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon (Jeenah Moon / reuters)

And while the booster may be vital to increasing vaccine efficacy against omicron, Shah said there are other ways to be cautious as well.

"The other thing that individuals can do is stay home when you’re sick, wear a mask when you’re indoors, especially when you’re in areas of high COVID transmission, and get tested often," She said. "Get tested if you’re sick. Get tested if you travel. Get tested before a holiday gathering. All of those things can really help curb the spread of this disease.”

'I would advise against large gatherings'

With Christmas approaching and families and friends gathering for the holiday, Shah cautioned against being around others who are not yet fully vaccinated due to how transmissible the omicron variant is said to be.

“Not to say that holiday gatherings should be discouraged, but smaller scale gatherings where people are feeling well, people are vaccinated, your high-risk family members and friends are boosted,” she said. “When you put those types of safety measures in place, you can celebrate the holidays safely. But I would advise against large gatherings at this point in time, given the trends that we’re seeing.”

Along with an uptick in cases, there's also a notable increase in the number of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. The primary issue remains unvaccinated members of society.

“As long as we have large communities of unvaccinated individuals, the virus will continue to form new variants,” Shah said. “That’s what these viruses do. The fact that this variant so far seems to be more mild in fully vaccinated individuals is a good thing because maybe we’ll get to herd immunity a little bit faster. But this is not going away.”

Shah stressed that "we can get to some semblance of normalcy if we encourage more vaccination and encourage more boosters. And this just may become a regular thing. Every year, you get your flu shot. And every certain number of months or years, you get your COVID shot. Maybe that’s where we’re heading.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

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