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Study on omicron variant continue as experts urge vigilance


Last updated 12/16/2021 at 12:43pm

The omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has still not been confirmed in Montana, but the variant is rapidly spreading across the U.S. and is surging in other parts of the world, especially Europe.

On the federal level, the U.S.' messaging on the new variant has remained consistent: people should continue to try to avoid spreading or catching the virus by wearing masks in public places, avoiding large gatherings, regularly washing hands and, most importantly, getting vaccinated and a booster if already vaccinated.

President Joe Biden and his administration have urged the public to be vigilant but not to panic as scientists are still studying the variant and there is much that remains unknown.

Indeed, omicron is still being studied, with the CDC saying more data is needed to know if infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more or less severe illness or death than infection with other variants.

Some reports seem to show that omicron is causing less severe infections, but most experts and organizations caution that more data is needed to draw conclusions.

However, one thing data does suggest more definitively is that omicron is far more easily transmissible than the delta variant, which itself far surpassed its predecessors in terms of how easily it spread, quickly becoming the dominant strain in the U.S. not long after its discovery.

The CDC says current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the omicron variant, but breakthrough infections will happen.

As with other variants, like delta, vaccines have remained effective and the recent emergence of omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters, the CDC says on its website.

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

Despite some evidence suggesting omicron causes less severe infection the higher rates of spread will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths regardless of the severity of the virus, officials are pointing out.

Omicron, first confirmed in southern Africa, was reported to the World Health Organization Nov. 24, and has since spread across the world.

Leaders in many other countries are saying the new variant could become the dominant strain by the end of this week, and experts in the say the U.S. will eventually follow suit.

Experts are also pointing out that the more people that are vaccinated, the lower the spread will be, and the less opportunity there will be for the virus to mutate and create new, possibly vaccine-resistant, variants.

CDC is recommending that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated, and 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.

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

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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