Oregon officials watching for Omicron, urge vaccinations, boosters ‘soon as possible’

Dr. Dean Sidelinger. state health officer and epidemiologist.(YouTube video)

The Oregon Health Authority said Monday that the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, is likely to reach the United States and that Oregonians should be vaccinated to protect themselves.

In a news release, Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the state epidemiologist, said the state shares public worries about the variant, which was first identified in Botswana in southern Africa. It has quickly spread to a number of countries around the world, including Australia, Israel and Britain, prompting travel bans.

But scientists said it’s unlikely that such bans will halt its spread. The variant has a number of mutations that make it highly transmissible. It’s unclear whether it causes more severe disease.

It has not yet been identified in the U.S., but Sidelinger said it’s certain to turn up here. Labs across the country have been tracking variants for months. In Oregon, that work is taking place at Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. 

As questions swirl, Sidelinger said Oregonians need to take one step immediately: Get vaccinated.

“Vaccination remains the best protection against Covid-19 infection and transmission, including most circulating variants,” Sidelinger said.

He said Oregonians shoudl get vaccinated or get their booster shots “as soon as possible.”

“We know that news of Omicron’s emergence will cause many people to experience some anxiety about the unknown,” Sidelinger said in his statement. “We also know there is a great deal of ‘pandemic fatigue’ as cases, hospitalizations and deaths are reported daily. Covid-19 continues to disrupt our lives. I share these anxieties.”

The variant has been identified by the World Health Organization as a variant of concern. It is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which quickly became the dominant strain worldwide. The strain triggered a surge in Oregon in recent months.

Though health officials are urging vaccination, it’s not clear whether vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna can protect against it as they do with Delta or whether the new mutations on the variant Omicron would make it more powerful.

Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla predicted that his company would have a new vaccine against Omicron within 100 days. He also expressed confidence that Pfizer’s pill to treat Covid would be effective against it, according to news reports.

Moderna’s CEO was less optimistic. According to a report on CNBC, CEO Stephane Bancel said it could take months to develop and ship a vaccine tailored to fight the new variant, adding that a higher dose of its booster could be ready much sooner.

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