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Omicron is in Southwest Florida; get vaccinated

From ​Dr. Stephanie Stovall is a Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician and Chief Officer Quality and Patient Safety for Lee Health.

After the delta variant of COVID-19 subsided in Southwest Florida, many of us breathed a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived, as a new variant – omicron – emerged only a few months later, first identified in South Africa.

Within weeks, it became a dominant strain, with cases surging across the United States.

There is much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 variant, but what we do know is vaccination is your best defense. Get vaccinated, if you haven’t already. Get your booster shot if you’re eligible.

Omicron is highly-contagious, and while its symptoms appear to be milder than delta, it is much more contagious.

At Lee Health, we have seen a significant increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations since the omicron variant made its way to our region. Like we saw with the delta variant, the vast majority of our COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

I can’t encourage you enough to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for use in those 5 years-old and above. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for 18 year-olds and above.

Everyone ages 12 and older can also get a COVID-19 booster shot for additional protection. When you get your booster depends on when you got your last vaccination and which brand of vaccination you received. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for a third dose for certain immunocompromised children 5-11 years-old. Children ages 5-11 who are fully vaccinated and are not immunocompromised do not need a third dose at this time.

For those who are 12 years-old and older and received Pfizer-BioNTech: You should get a booster at least five months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series.

For those who are 18 years-old and older and received Moderna: Yo u should get a booster at least six months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series.

For those who are 18 years-old and older and received Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen: You should get a booster at least two months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination.

Also, if you are 18 years or older, you may choose which COVID-19 vaccine you receive as a booster shot. Some people may prefer the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster.

If you are not fully vaccinated, your risk is higher for hospitalization and severe disease with this variant.

Breakthrough cases in people who are fully vaccinated and boostered, fortunately, have been mild. With other variants, like delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death. The recent emergence of omicron further emphasizes the importance of vaccination and boosters.

If you haven’t yet been vaccinated or are eligible to receive your booster, please do so as soon as possible. Also, during this time of high transmission in our area, everyone is encouraged to wear a mask when around others who are not in your family.