COVID-19 Omicron Variant: It's Early, But Here's Everything We Know Right Now

Image of COVID-19 variant model

As far as COVID-19 variants go, “omicron” certainly grabs your attention. Its name alone sounds ominous.

The World Health Organization officially classified it as a variant of concern in late November. And, right now, the number of positive omicron cases is rapidly increasing across the country.

But what else do we know about it?

1. The omicron variant spreads much easier

As far as what our experts are seeing firsthand through our own data, the transmissibility of the omicron variant is a very real concern.

Omicron became the cause of the majority of new COVID-19 cases across Houston Methodist patients in less than three weeks — accounting for 82% of all new symptomatic COVID-19 cases as of Monday, Dec. 20.

For comparison, the delta variant — which wreaked havoc this summer and fall — took about three months to surpass 80% of total cases once initially detected in Houston.

And while some observational reports have suggested that the omicron variant is less severe, it’s still too early to know whether this is true.

2. Available monoclonal antibodies are much less effective against the omicron variant

Unfortunately, it’s now also apparent that the two most commonly available monoclonal antibodies are much less effective against the omicron variant.

These two therapies played an important role in early treatment of COVID-19 in people who were unvaccinated or vaccinated but high risk.

Sotrovimab seems to be the only monoclonal antibody treatment currently still effective against the variant, but it’s not widely available right now — accounting for only a small portion of what was purchased and distributed by the government.

3. Now is the time to get your COVID-19 booster

The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases is concerning, and it’s time to get your COVID-19 booster if you’re eligible.

We already know boosters help protect people from getting seriously sick with the delta variant and data is rolling in that shows this protection is likely also extends to the omicron variant.

In fact, Pfizer recently announced results of a laboratory study showing that three doses of its COVID-19 vaccine offer better protection against the omicron variant. And Moderna has just released preliminary data showing that their booster is effective at increasing antibody levels against the omicron variant.

4. Our best defenses against COVID-19 remain the same

The best way to stay safe from COVID-19 — the omicron variant included — is to be aware of your surroundings and community spread in your area, as well as exercise the COVID-19 precautions that we know work, including:

  • Getting vaccinated and
  • Getting your COVID-19 booster once eligible and
  • Wearing a mask and
  • Social distancing in indoor public spaces and
  • Avoiding indoor crowds and
  • Washing your hands and avoiding touching your face

These aren’t ‘or’ statements, by the way — especially during holiday season.

Even if you’re vaccinated and boosted, you should still be wearing a mask in public or around vulnerable loved ones and avoiding crowds right now.

5. The unvaccinated are at greatest risk — no matter the variant

New variant or not, the most pressing issue is that far too many people are still unvaccinated.

In fact, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo reported that Houston’s first omicron-related death was an unvaccinated patient in his 50s.

We know the vaccines are safe, effective and our best defense against the virus. Even if you've had COVID-19, get vaccinated. The immunity offered by vaccination is stronger and lasts longer than natural immunity.

Plus, data shows that unvaccinated adults are twice as likely to get reinfected with COVID-19 than those who get vaccinated after recovering from their illness.

Whether you're hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines or incorrectly assume you can't get COVID-19 twice, make sure you're reading trusted information about the vaccines and reach out to your doctor if you have any unanswered questions.

Dec. 22, 2021