From Our Team
Vaccines play different but important role with Omicron
Posted on January 20, 2022 by Dr. Michael Kelly
For the past many months, government, community and healthcare organizations, and businesses, including the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, worked to promote and provide COVID vaccines. The Reduce the Risk collaborative provided factual information around community resources as well. Subsequently, the El Paso vaccination rate is higher than the Texas state rate; 93% of the elderly are fully vaccinated in El Paso County (84% in Texas) and 75% of those five-years and older are fully vaccinated (62% in Texas).
Vaccines were very helpful in preventing someone from contracting the alpha and delta variants, but this is not the case with omicron. The omicron variant is the most contagious version of the Coronavirus, observed during this two-year long pandemic. And current vaccines do less to prevent omicron infection. “However, vaccines are just as important as ever”, said Dr. Ogechika Alozie, an infectious disease specialist and CEO of Sunset ID CARE.
“One of the things that people are noticing is that even if they’ve been vaccinated, they’re still getting sick,” Alozie said. “We now have at least three population studies from Kaiser, from Denmark, and from the United Kingdom that showed that the vaccines that we got vaccinated with earlier in the pandemic, on average, aren’t protecting against omicron. Omicron seems to be escaping the vaccines. Now that should be a sort of pump the brakes moment, because even though it seems vaccines aren’t preventing infections and people are experiencing symptoms, they are holding up against the virus by reducing the severity of the virus and keeping most people from being hospitalized.”
The 7-day average of new COVID cases in El Paso County was 1,866 as of Jan. 19, according to EPSTRONG.org. This is up from a 7-day average of about 20 new cases by the end of June 2021 and very close to our peak 7-day average of new cases recorded at 1,939 on November 7, 2020, during our largest surge. But cases are only part of the story. The 7-day average of people hospitalized with the virus was 512 on Jan 19. This is also up from June 2021 when it was common to experience a weekly average of less than 50 people in the hospital with COVID. Still, with 1,866 current cases, the current 7-day hospitalization rolling average of 512 is about half of the average experienced during November 2020 surge when the average was over 1,000 people hospitalized.
Alozie said while the omicron is more contagious, it is less severe for most people due in large part to vaccinations.
“Is it less severe in everybody? Absolutely not,” Alozie said. “There’s still going to be people at risk, but on average it’s less severe than the other variants.”
El Pasoans must be aware of the effectiveness of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. “If you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine more than six months ago, you are essentially unvaccinated”, Dr. Alozie said. “It’s important that if you got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and that’s your only shot, you must get another shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine or an mRNA shot,” says Alozie.
Those who are elderly, have an underlying health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, or had the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should consider getting an mRNA vaccine or booster. Both Moderna and Pfizer are approved mRNA vaccines and are preferred by the CDC over the Johnson and Johnson shot.
“Anyone who gets a shot of the mRNA vaccine after originally getting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine should consult with their doctor to see if a second mRNA shot or booster shot is later needed,” Alozie said.
The risk of contracting the virus remains high and vaccines are still the best way to reduce the severity of illness and avoid being hospitalized.
For more information on the COVID-19 and getting vaccinated, visit reducetherisk915.org.
Dr. Michael Kelly is vice president of programs for the Paso del Norte Health Foundation and may be reached at email@example.com and 915-218-2619.
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