What is the COVID-19 Omicron Variant? Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Family Prepared

What is a variant?

As viruses spread they often change or mutate in their attempt to survive. These variants can affect the severity of the virus, how easily it spreads from person to person and whether people can catch the virus once they’ve already had it. Scientists know that the Omicron variant is more contagious than the first strain of COVID-19 and the Delta variant; at this point the severity of Omicron infections is undetermined.

On November 26th, 2021, the World Health Organization designated Omicron as a variant of concern; much more study is needed since this variant is relatively new. Undoubtedly, being a parent is hard work, taking care of your family is stressful under normal circumstances. Our world has changed considerably since COVID-19 entered our daily existence. Many of our children missed in-person schooling, daycare and play dates. Just as we began to settle into our regularly scheduled activities, we have been presented with the challenge of keeping our families healthy in the face of the Omicron variant that developed last month.

We, at Urgent Care for Children, do not want to add to parental stress. Nonetheless, as the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it is our belief that presenting scientifically-based information is the best way to empower parents to make informed decisions for their families in these ever-changing times. 

How is Omicron different?

Omicron is still being studied, yet one key difference is that the Omicron variant mutated in the spike protein. These spike proteins are found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus and are used to help our bodies recognize so our immune systems will react and begin to fight off the infection.

Should I still vaccinate myself and my family given the rise of the Omicron variant?

Over time, we have seen many news outlets touting the resilience of children’s immune systems. However, several children have had serious illness or complications such as multi-system inflammatory syndrome as a result of COVID-19 infection. Sadly, over 600 children in the United States alone have died from COVID-19. When COVID-19 vaccinations became available for children ages twelve and over, and finally for those ages five to 11, it served as a step toward providing protection to individuals and the population as a whole. In fact, one reason scientists believe the Omicron variant developed in South Africa is because less than 20% of the country’s population had been vaccinated for Covid. Adults should strongly consider getting fully vaccinated to help themselves and our population fight the disease more effectively. At Urgent Care for Children, we also highly recommend that children ages five and older should receive the COVID-19 vaccination as well, which you can book for them or yourself here.

I’ve already been vaccinated, what is the point of getting a booster shot?   

Though the Omicron variant has evaded most current vaccinations, and breakthrough infections have occurred, doctors and scientists recommend the booster shot because it will trigger your body’s response to create more antibodies and different types of those antibodies. Therefore, your body will be better prepared to fend off the effects of the virus. The likelihood of having long-term symptoms, hospitalization or dying after contracting COVID-19 are greatly decreased after being fully vaccinated and receiving your booster. Current recommendations for COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots are as follows:

  • Everyone aged five years and older should be fully vaccinated.
  • Immunocompromised children twelve years of age or older, should receive a booster shot 28 days after their second dose.
  • Children sixteen to 17 years of age should receive their booster if they are at least six months post receiving their second dose.
  • Adults eighteen years of age and older should receive a booster at least two months after their initial J&J/Janssen vaccine or six months after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccination series of Pfizer or Moderna.

What should I do to keep my family prepared for large gatherings?

Get vaccinated as indicated above, all available COVID-19 vaccines have been rigorously tested for safety. The vaccines have also proven to be safe for pregnant and lactating women. Further, if you plan to be around a large group of people, everyone two years of age and older should wear a mask to limit exposure. If the gathering is indoors, make sure the area is well ventilated. Continue to remind your children of proper handwashing techniques as well. Maintain physical distance as best you can. Every measure taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19, helps to slow the progression of new variants.

We realize that people are wary of COVID-19, yet it is still a part of our daily lives. Taking preventative measures can help protect our families and communities. COVID-19 symptoms can vary from mild to severe illness. If you, or your child exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 infection, Urgent Care for Children providers are standing by to administer the COVID-19 rapid antigen test or the PCR test. Learn more about our COVID-19 testing procedures by visiting www.childrensurgent.com. Most of our UC4C clinic locations have COVID-19 vaccinations available for children and adults, please be sure to verify availability in the clinic nearest you before your visit.