UVA doctors urge vaccines amid spread of Omicron variant
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Medical experts are racing to learn more about the newly discovered coronavirus variant, "Omicron," and they say booster shots may be key to slow the spread.
Omicron was first identified in South Africa. It's not deadlier, but it does appear to spread easier than other variants.
"It's gone from about 300 cases a day in Johannesburg for example to like 20,000, 30,000 cases a day today," said Dr. Bill Petri, an infectious disease specialist out of the University of Virginia Health System.
More research needs to be done on whether this variant is more likely to evade vaccines because early cases were in areas where the vaccination rate was low.
Less than a third of adults are vaccinated in South Africa, whereas in America, the vaccination rate is about 70 percent.
Still, Petri said it's more likely to be a concern among the unvaccinated.
"If you're not vaccinated, if this gets to the U.S., which it probably will, you'll be more vulnerable even than you are today with Delta," he said.
Therefore, doctors say the new variant and future variants don't mean the vaccines you got are worthless; it makes them more important. They compare it to the flu shot.
"It is really common for vaccine manufacturers to try to improve upon their vaccine. We're used to this. We get a new influenza vaccine every year. Why? Because the virus changes, and so we're adapting to that change," said Dr. Kyle Enfield, the associate chief medical officer for critical care at UVA Health.
The booster exists to handle new strains, whether it's Delta, Omicron, or anything that may come afterward.
"The booster works not only to raise your protective antibodies, but it also works to restore protection to the way it was when we just had the alpha variant," Petri said.
With another wave of holiday travel in about a month, doctors expect to see more Delta cases like last year, but it'll be much less severe because of the vaccine.