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Doctors urging COVID vaccine as new variant causes concern

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 4:10 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - New travel restrictions go into effect Monday as a new COVID variant creates some concern.

Several African countries, including South Africa where the Omicron variant was identified, are on the list. At least 14 countries have confirmed cases of the new variant.

The message from our nation’s top elected official was loud and clear.

“If you are vaccinated, but still worried about the new variant, get your booster. If you aren’t vaccinated - get that shot,” President Biden said.

Local health care leaders are echoing the President’s call for those who are eligible to get vaccinated or to get their booster shot. About half of the population in Georgia and South Carolina are fully vaccinated.

There’s still a lot of information doctors are waiting on to be released with regard to the new variant.

For those WTOC spoke to, it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ Omicron will be in the community. Dr. Stephen Thacker, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Health, says he believes we’re in a much better position now from a standpoint of being prepared for this new variant and to getting key answers faster about how protective current vaccines are.

Dr. Thacker says he’s hopeful that, as we’ve seen with other variants, that there’s continued benefit and protection from the current vaccines that we’re using.

“Preliminary evidence for this omicron variant is that it appears that it is easy for someone who’s had natural infection with a different variant to be re-infected with this one. So again, yet another call that if you’re someone who’s had natural infection in the past, there’s benefit to being vaccinated. Because you’ll have improved protection against new variants as they arise,” Dr. Thacker said.

The health director of the Coastal Health District is also weighing in on the latest variant of concern. Dr. Lawton Davis likened tracking this new variant and any impact it could have on our community to watching the track of a storm coming across the Atlantic threatening to make landfall.

Dr. Davis says it will inevitably arrive, it’s just a question of how bad, or not bad, it will be. Just like for hurricane preps, health experts say there are things you can do to prepare, like getting the vaccine or booster if eligible.

Dr. Davis says he recommends people not wait on any kind of booster specifically tailored to attack the new omicron variant, since that’s likely some time off. Dr. Davis pointed out this latest variant was just labeled a variant of concern less than a week ago, and that there’s still a lot to learn before any definitive information can be revealed.

“This may be a strain of virus that’s more contagious, but doesn’t cause a severe illness. On the other hand, it may cause a much more…we just don’t know. There’s a lot of things we don’t know,” Dr. Davis said.

There are likely still a lot of family holiday gatherings happening over the next few weeks. Health care leaders recommend increasing ventilation if those get togethers are inside, washing hands regularly and wearing a mask, especially if you’re inside where you don’t know the vaccination status of those around you.

As of right now no cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Georgia or South Carolina. In Georgia, the state department of health shared the same advice we heard from federal leaders - get vaccinated.

State Health Commissioner Doctor Kathleen Toomey writes in a statement, “Vaccination is more important than ever with the emergence of this new variant and the holidays just around the corner.”

Remember - everyone over the age of 5 is now eligible to get a shot. DPH is also encouraging anyone to get tested who has symptoms or has been exposed to COVID.

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