Keith Bishop/Getty Images
Millions of people test positive for COVID-19 in the United States every week, and the FDA is warning 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 the omicron to infect us so we can enjoy life again?
It’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 chickenpox party the 1970s way, the omicron version. Here’s why:
1. You might get sicker than you want
“Even for boosted people, just because you don’t end up in the hospital, you can still be quite miserable for a few days,” said Dr Ashish Jha, a physician and dean of the school of public health at the University. ‘Brown University on All Things Considered. “I don’t know why you need to look for this.”
Although omicron seems to cause milder illness in many people, “the truth is that it’s probably somewhere between what you would consider a cold or flu and the COVID we had before,” says Dr. Emily Landon, infectious disease physician. at UChicagoMedicine. “And there’s still a lot of risk of getting COVID.”
And, of course, if you have risk factors that put you in the vulnerable category, including age, you could still get seriously ill.
Even if you have an extremely mild case, you will miss out on life during isolation.
2. You could spread the virus to vulnerable people
When you are infected with COVID, you can unknowingly pass it on to others before you have symptoms. You could expose your family, roommates, coworkers, or random people in the grocery store, says epidemiologist Bill Miller of Ohio State University.
“And while you may have made the conscious decision to expose yourself and get infected, these people didn’t make the same choice,” he says. And they might have a higher level of risk than you.
You imposed your decision on others, Miller says, and that decision could result in serious illness or even death.
Or you can pass it on to a child who is still too young to get vaccinated, says Dr. Judy Guzman-Cottrill, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health & Science University. “Across the country and in my own state, we are seeing more and more sick children being hospitalized with COVID pneumonia, croup and bronchiolitis,” she says.
3. Your immunity will last for months, not years
Unlike chicken pox, contracting a COVID-19 infection is not a long-term escape from prison.
Two main elements impact the ability of our immunity to protect us, says Jeffrey Townsend, professor of evolutionary biology and biostatistics at the Yale School of Public Health. First, antibody levels: Immediately after getting an injection, booster, or infection, your antibodies skyrocket and you’re unlikely to get sick. Unfortunately, these levels do not remain high.
Second, the changing nature of the pathogen: as the virus evolves and variants emerge, our declining antibodies may not be able to target new virus variants as precisely. Omicron is a prime example of a virus that has mutated so that it can continue to infect us – this is what the term immune evasion refers to.
So how much time does an infection save you?
Although it’s hard to answer precisely, Townsend’s team estimate 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 data from previous antibodies against previous coronaviruses,
“At three to 16 months, you should be warned,” he says. “The clock is starting to tick again.”
4. You could add to the health system crisis
With hospitalizations reaching pandemic highs and hospital resources and staff stretched in many areas, your infection could add to the pressure, Miller says.
“Your decision to allow yourself to be infected can trigger a cascade of infections, often unknowingly, that results in even more people being hospitalized,” Miller said.
Not only are healthcare workers stressed and exhausted right now, but patients with other health conditions are being turned away and even dying due to the flood of COVID patients.
To contribute to this would be socially irresponsible, Landon says: “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 the treatments that are still lacking.Yes
Monoclonal antibody infusions, among the most effective treatments for preventing serious illness from COVID, are currently rare.
“We can’t save people as well as we could 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 receive another shipment for 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 newer antiviral drugs such as Paxlovid, Pfizer’s drug that needs to be given within the first few days of symptoms for it to be most effective. Landon says his hospital has limited supplies. “They’re not available to most people right now,” she says.
Also, the future is likely to hold even better treatments, Jha told NPR. “We’re going to get more treatments over time. So whatever we can do to delay more infections – they may be unavoidable, but there’s no reason to do that now.”
6. The chances of having a long COVID after omicron have not been ruled out
Omicron hasn’t been around long enough for us to know if it can cause long COVID in the same way as past variants. Vaccination reduces the risk of developing long COVID, “but we don’t know anything about how it works in omicron,” Landon says.
We know that some people with mild infections get long COVID, she says. And many healthy people end up with COVID symptoms that last for weeks or months, Miller adds.
“We don’t know yet how long there will be COVID with omicron – but I would say it’s not worth it,” he says.
So in conclusion…
Experts agree: Omicron parties are over.
While it may seem inevitable, “it’s still worth avoiding getting COVID if you can,” Landon says.
So why were chickenpox parties any different?
“Being infected with the omicron variant is not the same as getting chicken pox – it doesn’t confer lifelong immunity,” says Guzman-Cottrill.
And says Ali Mokdad, director of population health strategy at the University of Washington, points out that even in the case of chickenpox, people who have contracted the disease have a chance of getting shingles later in life. life, unlike people who received the vaccine. not.
Without knowing the long-term effects of COVID, whether delta or omicron, he 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 an opportunity to mutate further. I think it’s safe to say that no one wants to see another new concern variant in 2022.”