What You Need to Know About Omicron from a Physician’s Perspective

By: Kelly Ko & Dora Chou, FCSN staff

On December 1, 2021, US health officials identified the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in a person from California. It did not take long before it became the dominant variant overtaking the Delta variant, creating another surge in COVID cases around the world during the busy Christmas holiday season. With the highly transmissible Omicron upon us, parents worried about the health and safety of their children returning to school after the winter break, and about whether the vaccines will protect their children from the virus. Understanding the parents’ concerns, FCSN’s Outreach & Family Support Team once again invited Dr. Albert Wang back to their weekly Cantonese and Mandarin Friday parent meeting on January 14 to discuss this important topic with the parents.

Dr. Albert Wang is an Internal Medicine Specialist and former Chairperson of the Board at Palo Alto Medical Foundation. He has over 38 years of experience in the medical field. Dr. Wang is also a FCSN co-founder and board member. Since the start of the pandemic, he has been a guest speaker at various weekly Friday parent meetings to share his professional knowledge of COVID-19 and ways to mitigate the virus with the parents.

During the discussion, Dr. Wang provided many important information and included his advice on Omicron.

  • It is many times more transmissible than any previous variants, including Delta.
  • It appears to cause milder symptoms and less severe cases and deaths; however, Dr. Wang cannot confirm this without concrete data. The reason for Omicron to be milder could be that many people have already been vaccinated and with boosters compared to when COVID first started. Additionally, more COVID treatments are available now than before, so less people are likely to be hospitalized and enter the ICU.
  • Symptoms are less severe for those vaccinated individuals, but continues to be dangerous for the unvaccinated individuals as infection rates are still high for this population. Therefore, Dr. Wang highly encourages everyone to get full vaccination and boosters.
  • Full vaccination and boosters are highly effective in preventing hospitalization and being sent to the ICU. However, it will not prevent someone from contracting the virus. Unfortunately, for individuals who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions, they still run a risk of developing severe symptoms and become hospitalized or put into the ICU.
  • Although there are no medical studies to determine whether receiving a mix of mRNA vaccinations (ie. getting Pfizer for the first 2 shot and then Moderna as a booster) is more effective than staying with the same vaccine, there is data that shows people who received non-mRNA vaccines should receive mRNA boosters, such as Pfizer or Moderna, which will more effectively boost their immunity against the virus. 
  • Pfizer just came out with medication that is very effective in treating COVID at its early or moderate stages, but it will not work if you are already at a severe stage. The earlier one takes this medication, the less chance of being hospitalized or dying. Currently, this medication is only under emergency use for those COVID patients who are seniors or have other medical conditions. It is not available at a pharmacy or through your care provider. It is important to note that this medication is not for prevention of COVID; it is a treatment for COVID. We hope that this medication will be made available later for everyone.
  • The symptoms of Omicron compared to other previous variants are not the same. The common symptoms for the previous variants are coughing, shortness of breath, loss of smell, and fever; while the symptoms of Omicron are sore throat, stuffy nose, runny nose, and low fever. The virus attacks mostly in the mouth and nose area instead of the lungs, therefore, the milder symptoms.

Regardless of vaccination status, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten everyone’s health. Therefore, it is important that we continue to gain knowledge about this virus and do our duty to maintain good hygiene and follow the pandemic’s prevention protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus to others. We hope to see the end to this pandemic soon. 

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