Why you should avoid omicron, even if you’re vaccinated

As the omicron variant sweeps through the country and our community, it seems inevitable that we will all be exposed to someone with COVID-19 at some point. This has some people wondering if they should just get COVID-19 to get it over with.

Before you let your guard down, University of Iowa Health Care hospital epidemiologist Dan Diekema, MD, MS, shares a few reasons you should remain vigilant.

A mild case is not guaranteed

Omicron has generally been reported to be milder than previous variants, especially for those who are vaccinated and who have  a clean bill of health. Initial reports show that receiving a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine greatly helps prevent the likelihood of infection with the omicron variant, as well as reduce the severity of illness if you do get sick. However, vaccinated people can still get infected.

Even though you are less likely to be admitted to the hospital if you are vaccinated, you might still get significantly sick at home or have symptoms that persist beyond the COVID-19 infection, otherwise known as long COVID-19.

“Everyone by now has heard about long COVID-19 and we know that infections are not always mild and self-limited, even with omicron,” Diekema says. “Some people do get hospitalized, some people do get severely ill, and some people have symptoms that persist for long periods of time, and you really want to avoid that, if possible.”

The UI Health Care Post-COVID-19 Clinic has seen patients with persistent COVID-19 symptoms who initially had mild cases. Their symptoms include brain fog, chronic fatigue, lung inflammation, among others.

You could infect someone who is at risk for developing severe symptoms

Even if you are fortunate enough to contract a mild case of COVID-19, omicron is so contagious you may unintentionally spread it to someone who is more vulnerable to developing a severe case. Think about the elderly couple you see regularly at the grocery store, your parents, or even a friend who has an autoimmune disease you don’t know about.

Taking preventive measures shows compassion for the members of your community and your loved ones.

Your local health care system needs your help

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the goal was to “flatten the curve,” or limit high peaks in infection that could overwhelm hospitals. This goal is still important, even with a variant that’s less likely to lead to hospitalization.

“Even if only half a percent of people who are infected require hospitalization, if you have 300-400% more cases, that’s a lot of people who need hospitalization,” Diekema says.

By reducing infection rates, we preserve the capacity of our health care system to provide top-quality care to those who have COVID-19 and those who have other life-threatening illnesses, he adds.

It’s easy to do your part

Expert advice for staying safe hasn’t changed in light of omicron. Getting vaccinated and receiving a booster when eligible, wearing masks while indoors, washing your hands regularly, avoiding gatherings, and keeping your distance from others remain the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus.

Four reasons why you should avoid omicron, even if you're vaccinated
1. A mild case is not guaranteed.
You might still get significantly sick or have symptoms that persist beyond the initial COVID-19 infection (long COVID).
2. You could infect someone else.
You might spread it to someone who is more vulnerable to developing a severe case of the disease.
3. To help your local health care system.
By reducing infection rates, we preserve the capacity of our health care system to provide top-quality care for everyone.
4. It's easy to do your part.
Getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks while indoors, avoiding gatherings, and keeping your distance from others are all simple ways to limit the spread of COVID-19.