Sunday, January 16, 2022

Is the Omicron variant really going to burn itself out

I've read several articles like this one recently, discussing the theory (or, rather, hypothesis) that the fact that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is so contagious but relatively benign could be the best thing that has happened recently. The idea is that the variant will rip through the global population, conferring a level of immunity on those who catch it (including - indeed, especially - unvaccinated people), while leading to relatively few deaths and hospitalizations. Like some fires, it could burn through relatively quickly and then put itself out.

Well, it's a nice theory, and perhaps a comforting one, but it's essentially speculative. We have no idea whether this virus has yet more curve balls to throw at us, or what new variants have yet to be unleashed (and remember, the more cases there are circulating in the wild, the more the likelihood of new variants arising, even though some scientists seem willing to overlook that).

The other thing is that protection from vaccination is up to 5 times more effective than "natural immunity" from having caught the virus, so relying on natural immunity is a pretty unreliable and risky idea. Some anti-vaxx politicians, though, are taking it to heart and setting policy around it, horrible Florida Governor Ron DeSantis being a case in point. DeSantis believes that natural immunity is much stronger than vaccination immunity, based on a cherry-picked Israeli study that backs up his own beliefs. (It does, however, seem indisputable that the combination of vaccination and natural infection is the best protection against current and future variants.)

The bottom line seems to be that relying on natural immunity is a risky and unproven solution, and one that is mainly used by people with a political point to make, not medical experts. It may or may not prove impossible to hide from Omicron, but health advisors are pretty much unanimous in cautioning that it is never a good idea to deliberately court the virus in the hope of acquiring immunity (in the same way as it was never a good idea to go to "chicken pox parties" back in the day). This will only lead to overloaded hospitals. Plus, there is a chance you could end up with Long COVID. Plus, you will probably pass it on to others who may be more vulnerable than you. Oh, and you could die...

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