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'There's no cause to panic' | Local experts closely following new COVID-19 variant

Doctors still recommend getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from any variant.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Local health experts told First Coast News it’s not time to panic over the new COVID-19 variant omicron.

The omicron variant of COVID-19 is being called a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. On Monday, President Joe Biden confirmed that there have been no omicron cases reported in the United States.

New cases of COVID-19 in the state of Florida are currently at the lowest level since spring of 2020. Florida's Health Department reported just under 11,000 cases last week.

Hospitalizations are down too. Baptist Health is only treating 24 patients across their whole hospital system. At UF Health, there are only 9 COVID patients are in the hospital. 

Doctors believe the low number are proof that vaccines work.

“Since we had a summer surge many people have gone out and gotten vaccinated which is excellent and that is reflected in our numbers which is actually looking great," Baptist Health Infection Disease Specialist Dr. Shalika Katugaha said.

However, the with the new variant, there are two chief concerns among medical experts. The first is determining how transmissible the new variant is.

So far, indications are that omicron spreads quickly.

"If you look at how long it took for the Delta variant to become the most predominant strain in South Africa, it was several months," Assistant Chief Medical Office at UF Health Dr. Chirag Patel said. "It has only taken two weeks for omicron to do the same thing in South Africa. So if I'm going to be a betting man, I'm going to say it is going to be more more transmissible than delta was."

The next important question to address is the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines against omicron. 

Vaccinations are still recommended as the best protection against any variant. Since the effectiveness as the vaccine can lower over time, doctors also recommend getting a booster shot. If you received the Pfzier or Moderna vaccine, you should get a booster six months after your last shot. If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you should get the booster two months after your shot.

“There’s no cause to panic right now but just be cautious," Katugaha said.

Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are testing the effectiveness of their available vaccines against the omicron variants. Health experts believe the results of those tests should be available soon.


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