Could rapid spread of omicron help us reach herd immunity?

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:55 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Given that it is so contagious, some people wonder if the Omicron variant may result in herd immunity against COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Benjamin Springgate, LSU Health New Orleans Chief of Community and Population Medicine, says the omicron variant is much more contagious.

“What we’re seeing is a variant that is potentially two to three times more transmissible than the prior variant, Delta, and as a result, many, many people are becoming ill here in New Orleans as well as across the state, across the country, and across the world,” said Springgate.

This week, two top federal agency officials predicted almost everyone will be infected with the virus.

“Most people are going to get COVID and what we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA Commissioner.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, agrees.

“Omicron will ultimately find just about everybody,” Fauci stated.

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“I think we can see that it’s very likely that many, many people are going to get this and if it’s the majority of the population we don’t know yet, but it certainly doesn’t look great from the modeling perspective at the moment,” said Springgate.

The people of New Orleans are on the fence. Some say the spread is concerning and others are not worried. Some people think herd immunity will be reached if most people are indeed infected with the virus.

“Well, I think part of the challenge is that between now and any possible herd immunity that we might hope for in the future we have the immediate challenge of hospitals filling up, and when hospitals fill up that means when someone has a heart attack or a stroke or a car accident there might not be that ICU bed that they need, there may not be that emergency department bed that they need,” Springgate said.

With so much of the world still unvaccinated, achieving herd immunity may be easier said than done.

“When there is such disparity in the vaccination ability between industrialized countries and now-industrialized countries, we’re going to see persistent infections even if we are vaccinated five times over. We’ll see persistent infections elsewhere and that may mean that new variants pop up. Herd immunity becomes a difficult proposition,” Springgate stated.

Springgate and other doctors say the vaccinated and people who have had booster shots are less likely to be hospitalized and suffer severe outcomes from COVID-19.

“It’s time to make sure that everyone’s that’s eligible gets vaccinated; if you’re eligible for a booster please get boosted,” said Springgate.

Springgate urges people to wear high-quality masks, such a K-N95, multi-later masks, or to double mask with a surgical layer underneath a cloth mask.

According to the CDC’s COVID Tracker, 62.7% of the population is fully vaccinated and in Louisiana, the rate is 54% for those five years of age and older.

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