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Your Healthy Family: NCH COVID-19 Medical Director on what Omicron means for Southwest Florida

Posted at 7:33 AM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 07:33:48-05

NAPLES, Fla. — The Medical Director of COVID-19 at NCH Healthcare System said the Omicron variant of the virus has roared onto the scene and pushed aside other variants in places it's taken hold. Dr. Lindner said medical experts across the world are concerned about this variant, and that sends a message.

"Omicron went from being a few sequenced cases, to the predominant variant in days," Dr. Lindner said.

He said data shows the Omicron variant of COVID-19 could be up to six times more contagious than the Delta variant. He said it's also concerning because there's a significant genetic distance between the Wuhan ancestral virus -- the virus all of the COVID-19 vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments are based on -- and the Omicron variant. Dr. Lindner said this calls into question the level of immunity people who've had the vaccine or the virus have against Omicron.

"There is some data out of the prior variants, that it is likely that there will be a decrease in immunity compared to what we had before. How much, we don't know,” Dr. Lindner said.

He said when scientists initially studied COVID-19 vaccines, they were 94-95 percent effective against the original strain of the virus. With the Delta variant, the vaccines were 84-86 percent effective.

"Let's say that this now, it goes down by another 3-5 percent. Well, that means that the vaccines and the immunity is still beneficial. But it is likely that we will have more breakthrough cases," he said.

Still, Dr. Lindner said it's important to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you haven't already.

"Even if the vaccine and natural immunity lose some of their effectiveness, it is unlikely that they'll lose all of their effectiveness. The risk of being an unvaccinated, non-immune individual with COVID remains the same. And with that, you are playing with the possibility of thinking, 'Well, it won't be me.' And then for some of those people, it will be," Dr. Lindner said.

He said NCH has been prepared for another influx of patients, similar to what it saw with the Delta variant.

"We have not taken our foot off the gas pedal, so to speak, since the last surge. Unfortunately, the leadership team and all of us have expected that we would have another variant. We're all hoping it's not as bad as the last surge," Dr. Lindner said.

He expects to have more information about the severity of the Omicron variant over the next few weeks.

"So far, we have followed Europe to a tee within a month and a half to two months. So if we see an increase there, we're probably going to see an increase here," he said.

Dr. Lindner compares the situation with Omicron to the cone of uncertainty with a major hurricane.

"We're watching, we're staying tuned, and we're all hoping that it curves off into the Atlantic. Well, I think at this point in time, that's a really good analogy; just like we prepare for hurricane, we need to prepare for the possibility that this could be a really bad actor," he said.

Dr. Lindner said Omicron has made it's way to every major part of the world, and while it hasn't been reported in Florida, it would be remiss to say it's not here yet. He also said doctors in South Africa have reported that loss of smell and taste do not appear to be symptoms with this variant.

He said the best way to stay protected against Omicron is to wear a mask, wash your hands, and get vaccinated.