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Omicron variant could overwhelm us with COVID-19—Boosters are the answer

Patti Cullen, CAE
By Patti Cullen, CAE  |  December 24, 2021  |  All members



President/CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) Mark Parkinson recently sent members a critical message with regard to the omicron variant—an excerpt from that message is below: 

After 11 years with AHCA/NCAL, I hope my reputation is one of a calm optimist. It’s the way I strive to lead the organization. Unfortunately, I’m seeing some trends in the Omicron data that have led me to believe there is a reasonable chance that the United States will set new daily COVID-19 records in the next two to four weeks. It’s possible that COVID numbers will dramatically exceed what we saw last December. It’s for that reason that I’m sounding this alarm. You need to be ready.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prepare, but you need to act quickly. Before I get to those steps, I want to share what I’m seeing in the data that has led me to this concern. I’ve included that information below, as well as in this short video.

Omicron was first identified in South Africa only a handful of weeks ago. The clinicians that saw it observed its very quick spread among people who had close contact with Omicron-positive patients. Very quick. Delta is a variant that had a rapid spread. Omicron appeared to be surpassing Delta and is four to five times more infectious than the Delta variant. Unfortunately, the data from other countries now verify this clinical observation that the number of infections from Omicron is doubling every two to three days.

The really good news is that Omicron does not appear to be as deadly as Delta and the original COVID variants. However, this is from preliminary data among young adults. It’s still very early to make this a definitive statement, but the data is promising. But even if less virulent, it will cause an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. We don’t know what will happen when this variant infects the elderly and immunocompromised, many of the residents for whom we care in our facilities. 

Nevertheless, this will still cause major problems in the United States and in our buildings:
  1. Even if the mortality rate is very low, because of the large number of our residents and staff that are likely to get Omicron, we may have a lot of hospitalizations and deaths.
  2. Even if the mortality rate is low, we will have significant numbers of staff that test positive and be unable to work. This is going to make our staffing problems even worse. We will have some time where large numbers of staff are testing positive.

BOOSTERS ARE THE ANSWER
We have both bad and good news about the vaccine effectiveness against Omicron. We now have evidence indicating that the normal two-dose regimen of Pfizer and Moderna and the single dose regimen of Johnson & Johnson does not stop Omicron. There is some protection for the immediate six months after the final dose, but after that, the effectiveness drops to about 30 percent. That is the bad news. The good news is that for people who receive a booster, the effectiveness increases to around 75 percent against getting COVID, and the protection from hospitalization and death is much higher than that.    

The obvious conclusion from all of this is please focus on the booster shots. Right now, only 51 percent of residents and 22 percent of eligible staff have boosters. It’s time for you to ramp up your efforts to increase these numbers. We have resources that can help with this on our #GetVaccinated website.

Additionally, the CDC has created a webpage to help LTC providers access the booster dose. Providers should work with their LTC pharmacies to gain access to the booster dose. If you are having trouble accessing the vaccine, please contact your state or local health department’s immunization program. The appropriate contact for each immunization program can be found here. You may also contact: COVID19@ahca.org with any questions or for additional assistance.


Patti Cullen, CAE  |  President/CEO  |   pcullen@careproviders.org  |  952-851-2487



 



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