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By Tim Leeds 

More information released on omicron variant of COVID virus

 

Last updated 12/13/2021 at 11:44am

Although as of Sunday the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 was still not confirmed in Montana, the variant is spreading across the U.S. and is surging in other parts of the world like the United Kingdom and Denmark, with other parts of the world also seeing more and more cases.

In the U.S., while studies continue to find out more about the variant, the message has remained consistent. People should continue to try to avoid spreading or catching the virus, wearing masks in public places, avoiding large gatherings, regularly washing hands, and getting vaccinated and a booster if already vaccinated.

President Joe Biden said Thursday a new announcement goes hand in hand with the new variant's spread - the FDA and CDC have approved 16- and 17-year-olds getting a booster shot of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccines.

"So, my message is really very straightforward and simple," Biden said. "If you got vaccinated six months ago - and I say to all of you in the press as well, not a joke - I say to all of you: If you got vaccinated six months ago, get your booster right away."

The virus, first confirmed in southern Africa and reported to World Health Organization Nov. 24, appears to spread much more rapidly than previous variants including the delta variant still surging in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Leaders in other countries are saying the omicron variant could become the dominant strain very rapidly, likely by the end of this week in some parts of the world.

But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in an update Sunday that the delta variant continues to be the main variant circulating in the United States.

CDC said in the update that the new variant, omicron, is likely to spread much more easily than the first virus that caused COVID, although how easily it spreads compared to the delta variant remains unknown at this point.

"CDC expects that anyone with omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don't have symptoms," the update said.

Although United Kingdom has confirmed its first COVID-19-related death in someone infected with the omicron variant, how severe illness caused by omicron variant also is not yet known, although reports from some areas indicate it is generally not causing high rates of severe illness.

Higher rates of infection will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths regardless of the severity of the virus, officials are pointing out.

Studies continue on the new variant.

"More data are needed to know if omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants," CDC said in its update.

Vaccination, and boosters, are expected to be the best defense.

"Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant," the CDC update said. "However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur. With other variants, like delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. The recent emergence of omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters."

Treatment for illness caused by the variant also is being studied.

"Scientists are working to determine how well existing treatments for COVID-19 work," the update said. "Based on the changed genetic make-up of Omicron, some treatments are likely to remain effective while others may be less effective."

"Vaccines remain the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging," the update emphasizes. "COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Scientists are currently investigating omicron, including how protected fully vaccinated people will be against infection, hospitalization, and death.

"CDC recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated," the update continues. "CDC recommends that everyone ages 18 years and older should get a booster shot at least two months after their initial J&J/Janssen vaccine or six months after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccination series of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna."

It also stressed that wearing masks in public places by all people, vaccinated or unvaccinated, is key to slowing the spread.

"Masks offer protection against all variants," the update said.

Vaccines for initial vaccinations and boosters are available at multiple locations in the area.

The Blaine County Health Department, 406-357-2345, and the Fort Belknap Health Center, public health nurse 406-353-3250 and pharmacy at 406-353-3104, can schedule vaccinations and booster shots.

In Hill County, vaccinations and booster shots are available through Bullhook Community Health Center, 406-395-4305; the Hill County Health Department, 406-400-2415; Northern Montana Health Care's Specialty Medical Center at 406-265-7831 or its Family Medical Center at 406-265-5408; Western Drug Pharmacy, 406-265-9601; Gary & Leo's Pharmacy, which takes walk-ins; Walmart; and the Rocky Boy Health Center 406-395-4486.

Vaccine is available in Chouteau County at the Chouteau County Health Department, 406-622-3771, and Big Sandy Pharmacy at 406-378-5588.

People can call Liberty County Health Department at 406-759-5517 to schedule a vaccination.

 

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