Millions of people test positive for C-19 in the US each week, and the FDA warns that most Americans will contract the virus at some point. With mounting evidence that the omicron variant likely causes milder disease, some people may be thinking: Why not encourage omicron to infect us so we can enjoy life again?
That's not a good idea for many reasons, infectious disease experts and doctors say. Don't throw away your mask and don't even think about throwing a 70's style chickenpox party, the omicron version. This is why:
1. You could get sicker than you want
"Even for people who get boosters, just because they don't end up in the hospital, they can still be pretty miserable for a few days," said Dr. Ashish Jha, physician and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health at All. . Considered Things. "I'm not sure why you need to look for that."
While omicron appears to cause milder illness in many people, "the truth is that it's probably somewhere in the middle between what's considered a common cold or flu and the C-19 we had before," says Dr. Emily Landon , medical specialist in infectious diseases. at U Chicago Medicine. "And there are still a lot of risks of getting C-19."
And of course, if you have any risk factors that put you in the vulnerable category, including age, you could still get seriously ill.
Even if you get an extremely mild case, you will miss out on your life while isolating yourself.
Fact check: The theory that getting milder
GOATS AND SODA Fact check: The theory that getting milder
2. You could spread the virus to vulnerable people
When you are infected with C-19, you can unknowingly spread it to others before you have symptoms. You can expose your family, roommates, co-workers or random people at the grocery store, says epidemiologist Bill Miller of Ohio State University.
"And while you may have made a conscious decision to allow yourself to be exposed and infected, those people haven't made the same decision," he says. And they may be at a higher risk level than you are.
You have imposed your decision on others, says Miller, and that decision could cause serious illness or even death.
Or you could pass it on to a child who is still too young to be vaccinated, says Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill, a professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University. “Across the country and in my own state, we are seeing more sick children hospitalized with C-19 pneumonia, croup and bronchiolitis,” she says.
3. Your immunity will last for months, not years
Unlike chickenpox, contracting a C-19 infection is not a long-term get-out-of-jail card.
Two main things affect how well our immunity will protect us, explains Jeffrey Townsend, a professor of evolutionary biology and biostatistics at the Yale School of Public Health. First, antibody levels: Right after you get an injection, booster, or infection, your antibodies skyrocket and you're unlikely to get sick. Unfortunately, those levels don't stay high.
Second, the changing nature of the pathogen: as the virus evolves and variants emerge, our waning antibodies may not be able to target new virus variants as accurately. Omicron is an excellent example of a virus that has mutated so that it can continue to infect us; that is what the term immune evasion refers to.
So how long does an infection give you?
While it's difficult to answer precisely, Townsend's team estimates that reinfection could occur between three months and five years after infection, with a median of 16 months. This is based on an analysis of earlier antibody data to previous coronaviruses,
"Between three and 16 months, you should get a notice," he says. "The clock is starting to tick down again."
4. You could join the crisis of the health system
With hospitalizations at pandemic highs, and hospital resources and staff in short supply in many areas, her infection could add to the strain, Miller says.
"Your decision to allow yourself to get infected can set off a cascade of infections, often unknowingly, leading to even more people needing to be in the hospital," says Miller.
Healthcare workers are not only stressed and burnt out right now, but patients who have other health problems are being turned away and even dying due to the rush of C-19 patients.
Contributing to that would be socially irresponsible, says Landon: "You don't want it hanging over your head in terms of karma."
5. If you get sick now, you may not have access to treatments that are still in short supply
Monoclonal antibody infusions, among the most effective treatments to prevent serious illness from C-19, are in short supply right now.
"We can't rescue people as well as when we had delta because we don't have as many monoclonal antibodies," says Landon. "We are completely out of [Sotrovimab] and we don't know when we will get another shipment to our hospital."
Other hospitals have reported similar shortages of the monoclonal antibody that has been shown to be effective against omicron.
It's the same problem with new antiviral drugs like Paxlovid, the Pfizer drug that needs to be given within the first few days of symptoms to be most effective. Landon says his hospital has limited supplies. "They're not available to most people right now," she says.
Plus, the future likely holds even better treatments, Jha told NPR. "We'll get more therapies over time. So anything we can do to delay more infections, they may be unavoidable, but there's no reason to do it now."
6. Chances of contracting prolonged C-19 after omicron have not been ruled out
Omicron hasn't been around long enough for us to know if it can cause prolonged C-19 in the same way previous variants have. Vaccination reduces the risk of developing prolonged C-19, "but we don't know anything about how it works in omicron," Landon says.
We know that some people with mild infections get C-19 for a long time, she says. And many healthy people end up with C-19 symptoms that last for weeks or months, Miller adds.
"We don't know yet how long there will be C-19 with omicron, but I'd say it's not worth the risk," she says.
So in conclusion...
Experts agree: Omicron parties are out.
Although it may seem inevitable, "if possible, it's worth avoiding getting C-19," says Landon.
So why were chickenpox parties any different?
"Getting infected with the omicron variant is not the same as getting chickenpox; it doesn't provide lifelong immunity," says Guzman-Cottrill.
And says Ali Mokdad, director of population health strategy at the University of Washington, even in the case of chickenpox, people who have contracted the disease have a chance of getting shingles later in life, while people who received the vaccine no.
Without knowing the long-term effects of C-19, whether it's delta or omicron, she says, "it's better to get our immunity through a vaccine."
And avoiding infection could help protect us all, says Guzman-Cottrill: "Allowing this virus to continue to spread does one thing: It gives the virus a chance to mutate even more. I think it's safe to say that no one wants to see another new variant." of concern in 2022".