The Pandemic

What to Know about the Omicron Variant and Covid Booster Shots

Covid cases are on the rise in Florida—but so are vaccination rates.

By Allison Forsyth December 17, 2021

While it's still unknown whether the Covid-19 Omicron variant is spreading in Sarasota-Manatee, it is clear that Covid-19 cases in general are on the rise in Florida. More than 130,000 new cases were reported last week in the state, with 253 new cases in Sarasota County and 214 new cases in Manatee County.

However, there is some good news: the growth in cases is matched with an increase in vaccination numbers, especially as concerns about Omicron grow. Last week, more than 90,000 Covid-19 vaccination series (the first two doses of mRNA or one dose of Johnson & Johnson) were completed in Florida. Additionally, more than 300,000 Floridians received a third dose or booster shot last week.

Sarasota and Manatee vaccination numbers mirror that trend. About 1,838 vaccines (first, second or booster) were administered in Sarasota last week and 1,750 were administered in Manatee.

Children have also been getting the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine since it was approved for ages 5-11. The exact numbers for Sarasota and Manatee counties are unknown; however, more than 1 million children ages 5-11 have been vaccinated in Florida so far and almost 2 million ages 12-19. (This number includes children who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.)

Boosters for children are currently only available for ages 16-17, six months after the second dose. Currently there's no timeline for booster approval for younger kids—or information on whether boosters will be needed at all for them.

However, the importance of boosters for adults remains clear. Health officials are urging adults to receive a booster, which in clinical trials has been proven effective at fighting the omicron variant. The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with ABC that a booster dose raises your level of protection high enough to perform well against Omicron—maybe even more so than just two doses of Pfizer and Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson.

This is why some health officials are debating whether the definition of "full vaccination" against Covid-19 should include a third dose. More studies need to be completed in order to determine its validity and effectiveness as case numbers continue to wax and wane.

"What's becoming clear is that vaccinated people may be at risk of infection from Omicron. And even if they don't get severely ill—say they are young and they're healthy—this variant could, if it spreads more here, keep moving through the population and hit vulnerable people again," NPR reporter Allison Aubrey said in a segment on Dec. 13. "That's why Dr. Fauci keeps talking up boosters, which he says shore up protection."

"The first concern of the Omicron variant is that it is much more infectious than other strains- three times that of the highly infectious Delta variant. In over just a month, it has spread to more than 75 countries, including much of the United States. There is no curve to flatten with Omicron. The path of this variant goes straight up," said Sarasota Memorial Hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist Manuel Gordillo, MD in a statement for the hospital.

"Equally concerning, studies show that Omicron may evade the antibody protection provided by our vaccines. It is also infecting people with natural immunity from a previous Covid infection. The good news is that while studies show vaccines are still very effective at preventing severe illness if you catch Omicron, booster shots appear to further bolster your protection," Gordillo adds.

Click here for a list of local pharmacies and health department sites offering booster shots.

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