The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
While the world waits to learn how the newly recognized omicron variant will reshape the COVID-19 pandemic, Washingtonians have so far reacted to its arrival the right way. Just check the lengthening lines that have formed again as people scramble to get vaccinations and booster shots.
Don’t be dismayed if you can’t get a vaccine right away. That hassle actually is a good sign for the region. The omicron variant appears far more contagious than earlier COVID-19 strains. Within days of the state Department of Health’s Dec. 4 announcement omicron had been discovered locally, the University of Washington’s virology team reported it comprised 13 percent of COVID-19 case samples collected Dec. 8. The same day those samples were collected, Pfizer was offering the world an update that “booster” doses of its vaccine successfully inhibit omicron.
Nearly two years of tragic experience with this pandemic have cleared up many of its mysteries. The way forward is clear. Vaccinations, good-filtering masks and sensible safety practices help keep people safe.
Washington’s Department of Health should consider whether to mandate that a booster shot is required to be considered fully vaccinated. But residents don’t need to wait for that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends third doses for everyone ages 16 and up, which is far better advice than the medical misinformation spouted to undermine belief in the safety of vaccinations.
Gov. Jay Inslee reported a 75 percent uptick in people using the state’s vaccination finder at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov in the first days of the known omicron spread, a promising sign that public-health messaging in this state is finding receptive audiences. The indications that omicron can find its way through society faster ought to drive people to persevere at getting their booster shots and consider stepping up their safety game as well.
The calendar is not on our side. Omicron’s predicted surge overlaps with the season of holiday get-togethers. But the tool kit to deal better with the pandemic has grown in promising ways. Home COVID-19 test kits are widely available on drugstore shelves. N95 masks, once scarce, are easy to find now. Free public testing sites are statewide. News stories about potential breakthrough medical treatments for COVID-19 — not horse dewormer, but specifically developed legitimate medicine — have become increasingly frequent. Pfizer announced Tuesday a new treatment regimen appears 90 percent effective in using pills to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
The pandemic can still do real harm. More than 800,000 Americans have died already from COVID-19. But the initial response to omicron, and the increasing arsenal to confront the virus, ought to build faith that overcoming this challenge is growing tantalizingly closer. Hang tight and be safe.