Omicron brings added urgency for vaccination

Published 5:51 pm Friday, January 7, 2022

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By T. Ryan Gallaher

As eastern North Carolina continues to see rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant, the COVID-19 vaccine is the most simple and effective tool we have to help stop the spread, slow further mutations and save lives.

Since Dec. 1, Vidant Health has seen a 340% increase in the weekly average of COVID positivity rate (7.3% on Dec. 1, 32.1% on Jan. 3) in our region. We have also experienced a 183% increase in the total number of COVID-positive inpatients (Dec. 1: 52; Jan. 3: 147) across our hospitals during this time, with the vast majority of these individuals being unvaccinated. As of Jan. 4, the Omicron variant has contributed to almost all of our total variants detected a number that has increased exponentially each week.

The continued spread of the virus and the arrival of new variants is an urgent reminder that this pandemic is not over yet. Right now, the Omicron variant is quickly becoming the dominant virus variant across the nation, and we know that this variant is highly infectious. One of the fundamental principles of this pandemic is that unvaccinated individuals have higher risk of severe disease and infection.

As has been the case with any variant, vaccination is highly effective at preventing the spread and reducing the severity of symptoms of those with breakthrough cases. If you have not had your booster or third dose of the vaccine, recent analysis of blood samples comparing boosted and non-boosted samples shows the extra dose is important to ensure better protection against the Omicron variant.

Additionally, we can have more confidence than ever regarding the safety of mRNA vaccines, even in children 5 and older. Vaccines for school-aged children are not new, and the COVID-19 vaccine should be part of that routine.

Recent data from October has shown unvaccinated individuals have five times higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 14 times higher risk of death from COVID-19. Even more recent data from the Omicron surge in UK and South Africa has shown vaccine efficacy increases from 35% to 75% when a booster is given. After billions have been vaccinated around the world, it still holds true that the risks of COVID-19 far outweigh any risks of the vaccine. More studies have further shown mRNA vaccines do not affect fertility or be linked to any adverse pregnancy outcomes and, thus, continue to be safe and effective.

The longer you wait to vaccinate, the more likely you are to get the virus. Vaccination and boosters still largely protects from the Omicron variant, but we may not have that luxury if the virus continues to rapidly spread and mutate. Reports of adverse effects from the vaccines are rare, and you have a much higher chance of suffering critical outcomes from the virus as opposed to the vaccine.

Vidant Health offers vaccinations for anyone ages 5 and older. Additionally, Vidant Health is now administering boosters for those who are eligible. To receive your COVID-19 vaccine or booster, visit or call 252-847-8000.

T. Ryan Gallaher is an infectious disease specialist at Vidant Health.