Willingly catching omicron for a boost in immunity is a risky gamble

Flu sick
Posted at 8:15 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-12 07:44:31-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new wave of COVID infections has doctors concerned that some are catching the omicron variant willingly to help boost their immune systems.

At this rate, you or someone you know has probably been infected with the omicron variant. At the city's worst days of the delta variant, Nashville may have had 8,500 active cases. Now that number is nearly three times as high at more than 22,700.

The symptoms were nothing short of miserable for some, and doctors said they’ve warned those skeptical of how it would impact their bodies.

Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said although omicron carries relatively mild symptoms, your body may react in a much different way than what you see other people experiencing.

That’s especially true if you have underlying health issues like diabetes or heart disease. The same goes for anyone who is immuno-compromised.

He said it’s not likely you’ll need the hospital if you’re vaccinated, but those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk of serious complications.

"You do stand a chance of being hospitalized and getting more serious disease. The majority of the patients who we see today still being hospitalized because of COVID are people who are unvaccinated," said Schaffner.

Even if none of these things apply to you, there’s a chance that the fever and flu-like symptoms last much longer than just a few days.

Congestion, loss of senses, shortness of breath, and fatigue have been known to linger for months. Not to mention, you could carry the virus and infect others.

“For reasons of safety of self and safety of people around you, don’t get infected. Get vaccinated,” Schaffner said.

Schaffner says while your body will have some immunity if you catch the virus, it’s little compared to the antibody protection you get from a vaccine and a booster shot.

“That higher level of antibody is associated with two things, a longer duration of protection as well as a greater diversity of antibodies protecting you against a variety of different variants,” Schaffner said.

Which could keep you from our already stressed and short-staffed hospitals. We don’t have as many hospitalizations as we did during the delta surge, but doctors worry the shortage of health care workers couldn’t have come at the worst time. As of the beginning of this week, there were more than 700 people in Nashville area hospitals with COVID and 23% are in the ICU.

Across the country, that number climbs to more than 138,000 patients according to the US. Dept. of Health and Human Services.

Instead of leaving things to chance, Schaffner said bet on what works.

“You don’t have to play the odds. Just get vaccinated and you’re a winner,” Schaffner said.

Schaffner says it's important to remember that COVID will be with us for the forseeable future. He says we will have to cope with it in the same way as influenza on an annual basis.

He tells us scientists are even working on creating a combined influenza and COVID vaccine, "so that perhaps every year down the road we'll only have to roll up one sleeve to get protected each winter season," Schaffner said.