During the pandemic, Dr. Jessica Kiss, a family medicine doctor in Southern California, has addressed innumerable inquiries regarding COVID-19 on TikTok as @AskDrMom.
But one of the most startling occurred on Jan. 3, which also happened to be a record-breaking day for new cases in the United States: «Should you purposefully get Omicron?»
While the majority of individuals have spent the previous two years desperately attempting to avoid COVID-19, others appear to be considering the reverse. Their bizarre thinking is similar to that of chickenpox parties, where parents purposefully expose their children to the illness in order to «get it out of the way» and kickstart immunity.
«It wasn’t a good idea before, and it isn’t today,» Kiss stated on TikTok.
Because Omicron is highly contagious, many people will become infected during this wave, both vaccinated and unprotected. COVID-19 was diagnosed in over a million people in the United States on Jan. 3, prompting some researchers and members of the public to assume that it may be impossible to avoid the virus permanently. Breakthrough infections have grown prevalent, and they’re usually minor for those who have been properly vaccinated and boosted.
Experts advise that purposefully attempting to become infected is not a good idea for anyone. It’s an unnecessary risk for fully vaccinated people, and it’s like playing «Russian roulette with an automatic handgun» for those who aren’t, according to Dr. Laolu Fayanju, regional medical director at Oak Street Health in Ohio.
According to Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University School of Medicine who researches viral immunity, this strategy has significant flaws. First, there’s no way to know how dangerous a COVID-19 infection will be. Second, immunizations and boosters give adequate protection. Finally, every illness has the potential to cause a domino effect, infecting others in potentially fatal ways.
Iwasaki comments, «The risk-to-benefit calculation here is extremely evident to me.» «The risk is far greater than any gain you would receive.»
So far, evidence suggests that persons infected with the Omicron variety are less likely to be hospitalized than people infected with prior COVID-19 strains, and those who are admitted for care aren’t as unwell as patients in past waves. This appears to be due to the fact that Omicron is less likely to induce serious lung injury.
Even if Omicron is milder than other variants, on the whole, it will still be fatal for certain people. COVID-19 claimed the lives of about 1,400 people in the United States on Jan. 3 alone, and more than 100,000 people were hospitalized as a result of the virus.
Unvaccinated people, the elderly, and those who are medically vulnerable are the most vulnerable, but no one is guaranteed. Because consumer testing does not distinguish between different strains, there’s no way to know if you’re exposed to the Omicron variety or the still-circulating and more severe Delta variant.
Long COVID, as the name implies, refers to symptoms such as weariness, brain fog, difficulty breathing, and others that persist long after acute COVID-19 infection has passed. Long COVID can develop even in modest cases. While studies have indicated that vaccination lessens the likelihood of developing Long COVID following an infection, the illness can still emerge after a breakthrough case.
«People have no idea if they’ll be one of the people who can survive an infection with few long-term repercussions,» Fayanju says. He claims there’s no reason to take that danger on purpose.
But what about the hypothesis that recovering from COVID-19 can give fully vaccinated people «super immunity»? True, each COVID-19 encounter probably provides some level of natural immunity, and combining those defences with vaccination appears to provide a stronger-still response.
«Vaccinating previously infected patients greatly increases their immune response and successfully minimizes the risk of recurrent infection,» according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other research suggests that those who get sick after becoming vaccinated benefit from the vaccine as well. A small group of fully vaccinated (but unboosted) people experienced an antibody surge after recovering from breakthrough infections, according to a recent research letter, and another small, not-yet-peer-reviewed study found that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people who had an Omicron infection gained some protection against the Delta variant, according to another small, not-yet-peer-reviewed study.
These advantages are nice for those who get sick by accident, but Iwasaki believes it’s not necessary to seek out infection for an immune boost; you can get the same benefits through vaccines and boosters, which have been demonstrated to be safe and effective.
Furthermore, natural immunity deteriorates with time, and there’s no guarantee that taking Omicron would protect you from the next undiscovered type. «We know that even against Omicron, the booster induces pretty powerful antibodies,» Iwasaki explains. «Why not gain your immunity that way?» says the narrator.
One of the most essential reasons to avoid getting COVID-19 on purpose is the strain it creates on vulnerable people and our already overburdened healthcare staff. COVID-19 can infect anyone, even people who are medically weak, too young to receive vaccinations, or otherwise unprotected.
«It has the potential to really inflate the number of individuals who are unwell and then swamp our already overcrowded and overworked health care system,» Fayanju adds, if some people purposefully get sick, perhaps starting a chain of transmission.
«It sends shivers up my spine» to think of the situation worsening because people desire to get sick, he says.