Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been identified in many countries around the world and this has been accompanied by a wave of misinformation being shared online.
The Omicron variant, variant B.1.1.529, which is the newest variant was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 24 November 2021 and was classified as a variant of concern by WHO on 26 November 2021.
The variant which was first detected in South Africa has since been found in 30 African countries and in at least 142 countries around the world.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant came with high global anxiety compared to the other variants (Beta –first detected in South Africa, Gamma –first detected in Brazil, Delta –first detected in India) and this fueled many myths and misconceptions.
Here are 9 myths found on the internet and facts from the World Health Organization (WHO) to burst these lingering myths:
Myth 1: Omicron only causes mild disease.
Fact: Omicron appears to be less severe than the Delta variant, but it should not be seen as mild. According to the World Health Organization, a number of countries have shown that infection-severity from Omicron in their populations has been lower compared to Delta.
However, these Omicron impacts have been mostly observed in countries with high vaccination rates: the comparatively lower rate of hospitalizations and deaths so far is in large part thanks to vaccination, particularly of vulnerable groups.
The WHO said, “without the vaccines many more people would likely be in the hospital.”
Myth 2: As Omicron is less severe, we will see fewer hospitalizations and our health systems will be able to cope.
Fact: Omicron still presents a high risk to our health systems. The WHO said “the overall risk related to Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons. Current data indicates that Omicron has an even higher growth advantage compared to Delta.”
Even if an Omicron infection was less severe compared to Delta, the rapid increase in cases will result in an increase in hospitalizations, putting pressure on health care systems for treating patients with both COVID-19 and other types of disease.
Myth 3: Vaccines don’t work against Omicron.
Fact: Vaccines offer the best available protection against Omicron. “Vaccination is expected to provide important protection against severe disease and death caused by Omicron, as it does with the other variants still in circulation,” the WHO emphasized.
Vaccination prompts the body’s immune response to the virus, which not only protects us from the variants currently in circulation – including Omicron – but is also likely to give protection from severe disease due to future mutations of COVID-19.
Myth 4: Unvaccinated people will not become severely ill from Omicron.
Fact: Unvaccinated people are at most risk from Omicron.
The sheer volume of new COVID-19 infections is already leading to more hospitalizations in countries where Omicron has become the dominant variant, with most of those who require hospital treatment being unvaccinated people.
Myth 5: Omicron is just like a common cold.
Fact: Omicron is much more dangerous than a common cold; Omicron is not like a common cold because it is more likely than a cold to land you in hospital.
“We have seen that people infected with the Omicron variant are being hospitalized and some people have already died as a result of it. It is also expected that people who have been infected from Omicron and recover are also at risk of developing so-called Long COVID conditions,” the WHO cautioned.
Myth 6: Previous infection provides immunity from Omicron
Fact: Omicron can reinfect people that have previously had COVID-19; If you have had COVID-19 previously, you should still get vaccinated, as reinfection from Omicron is still possible, with the risk that you could become seriously ill, pass on the virus to others or develop Long COVID.
Getting fully vaccinated, whether you have had COVID-19 or not, is the best way to protect yourself and others from severe disease, being hospitalized and potentially dying from the virus.
Myth 7: Boosters are ineffective against severe disease from Omicron.
Fact: Booster jabs are effective at increasing protection against severe disease from Omicron and all other COVID-19 variants; This will literally boost your protection against severe disease from Omicron and other variants of COVID-19.
The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, as with many other vaccines, such as the one for flu, wanes over time, so if you are offered a booster jab, take it. The WHO advised that;
- People in at-risk groups, such as those over 60 years of age and people with underlying health conditions, who are at most risk of becoming seriously ill from the infection.
- Health care workers should also get a booster jab due to their high risk of exposure to the virus and the danger of spreading it to the vulnerable people they care for.
Myth 8: Face masks are useless against Omicron as the gaps in them are larger than the virus.
Fact: Wearing masks is an effective protective measure to help reduce the infection and spread of Omicron.
“Based on the evidence that we have so far, all preventive measures that work against the Delta variant continue to be effective against Omicron – and this includes mask-wearing,” the WHO has said.
Omicron is moving so quickly that, in addition to vaccination, all other preventive measures – wearing a mask; cleaning hands; physical distancing; avoiding closed, confined or crowded spaces; coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue; and ensuring good ventilation – are needed to stem the wave of infection and protect health workers and systems.
Myth 9: With Omicron being less severe, we are nearing the end of the pandemic.
Fact: It is important to recognize that we still have some way to go to ending the pandemic.
The WHO said: “Although we are currently reporting fewer hospitalizations and deaths across the Region as a whole, we are, however, dealing with a huge surge in COVID-19 cases.”
In those countries where Omicron is becoming or has become the dominant variant, COVID-19 cases are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days – with hospitalizations rapidly rising as a result.
By: Gifty Tracy Aminu