Early data shows vaccinated people are experiencing mild symptoms with Omicron variant, infectious disease doctor says

Dr. Ruth Berggren, of UT Health San Antonio, joined KSAT’s Q&A to discuss Omicron variant data

Although there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, health officials say that early data indicates the mRNA vaccines are still proving to be effective.

With Omicron cases spreading worldwide, and with two confirmed cases in the U.S. as of Thursday, many are concerned with its transmissibility rate and if it brings severe illness, despite vaccination status.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Ruth Berggren from the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio joined KSAT’s Q&A on Thursday, and said that although a lot of information on the variant is still in its early stages, it’s showing so far that the vaccines are continuing to work.

“I think there are encouraging early signals that the people that are getting sick enough to need hospitalization with Omicron are people who are unvaccinated. So, yes, I think this is potentially something that will make unvaccinated people sick, but it’s very likely that the vaccinated people will get away with mild symptoms,” Dr. Berggren said.

Although data could change as more cases of the Omicron variant are confirmed, Berggren said most of the cases reported so far are among vaccinated young people, and their cases are mild.

“Anything I say now could change when we get more data, but all reports so far point to this variant of concern apparently being more infectious, more easily transmissible, but apparently fairly mild. That’s what’s being reported in South Africa,” Berggren said. “They have noted there that a lot of their cases are in younger people and that could account for why the disease appears to be milder there. And so we have to wait and see what will happen if some older people start to get it, if they will have more severe symptoms.”

Health officials are still urging those who have reached their six-month mark after receiving their second-dose of their Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to get their booster for added protection.

If you received the J&J vaccine, you’re eligible to receive a booster two months after your dose.

According to Berggren, children are not eligible to receive a booster shot; rather, only those who are 18-years-old or older, per the FDA.

“Time will tell (if children will need a booster)... We don’t have that information yet for the children,” she said.

In the meantime, as more Omicron cases arise globally, Berggren said the best thing you could do aside from getting vaccinated is to still abide by the health protocols while out in public.

“Put your masks on. Use the principals that you’ve been learning and practicing for the last almost two years now. Get yourself vaccinated. If you haven’t had your second shot, go get your second shot. If it’s been six months since your second shot, go get your booster. Get your kids vaccinated and keep everybody safe around you,” she said.

The Omicron variant originated in South Africa, and nearly three dozen countries worldwide have reported infections, as of Thursday, the Associated Press reports. No deaths have been linked to the new variant as of yet.

You can watch the full interview with Dr. Berggren in the video player above.

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About the Author:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.