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'We can no longer eradicate this virus': Mayo Clinic vaccine expert urges everyone to get boosters for protection against COVID variants

Dr. Gregory Poland, Mayo Clinic vaccine and epidemiology expert, said our best defense against COVID variants is to get fully vaccinated and get the booster shot.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wednesday marks one year since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered outside of a clinical trial. It comes as Pfizer announced its booster shot protects against the latest variant, omicron.

"Let me make this clear, we can no longer eradicate this virus, this disease," Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine and epidemiology expert at Mayo Clinic, said. "Your great, great, great-grandchildren will be getting immunized against this disease.”

Poland said we'll continue to see different strains of the virus.

"It is impossible for it to not happen given that much of the U.S., and I'll just confine most of my remarks to the U.S., has decided to act as if the pandemic is over," Poland said.

Poland said in addition to getting a booster shot, it's also a good idea to wear a mask indoors.

"The vast majority of people are not doing that, and it's as if we give a lottery ticket to the virus every time we go into a public place without a mask. It allows for infection. It allows for further mutation," he said.

According to Poland, the latest strain, omicron, is two to six times more infectious than the delta variant. Delta, however, remains the present threat and accounts for the majority of the cases of COVID in the United States, he said.

There's good news about omicron, Poland said.

"Early data suggests increased transmissibility, but perhaps less severity," he said.

Poland said this could mean COVID will continue to mutate into something more like the common cold, but more evidence is needed, He said that's no reason to let your guard down, and advises everyone to get booster shots. Studies show, he said, that it can protect people against variants. 

"I think whether we're talking about delta, whether we're talking about prior infection, whether we're talking about omicron, the single best thing that you can do would be to get a booster," Poland said.

Meanwhile, manufacturers, Poland said, already started working on boosters targeting omicron and other variants.

Poland said another way we can get ahead of the variants is screen for them. He said Florida has done the least screening for COVID variants out of large states across the country.

"The implication for that is you don't know what kind of fire is coming. You don't know what kind of fire to fight. Am I fighting a wood and paper fire where water will do fine? Or am I fighting a petroleum-based fire where I need a suppressant or a foam? And how does that play out with the virus," Poland said.

As far as the holidays, Poland said make sure you and your family members are fully vaccinated and boosted before getting together. He said it isn't a bad idea to get tested for COVID too before gathering. 

"If it's people from outside of the family or somebody on chemotherapy who're highly vulnerable, they're going to wear masks. Otherwise, you don't need to wear a mask," he said talking about holiday gatherings.

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