As omicron causes more breakthrough cases, here’s what you should know

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children’s Hospital, on November 5, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh, file)

(NEXSTAR) – The latest worrisome variant of COVID-19, omicron, has caught the world’s attention. As one of the most mutated viruses ever seen by scientists, it is also proving to cause more breakthrough cases, meaning that those who are fully vaccinated, and even some with booster shots, are testing positive for the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infections, which means that some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19. Those who are fully vaccinated and experience a major case are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are not vaccinated and contract COVID-19.

The following CDC data shows that breakthrough cases, among those fully vaccinated without a booster dose, began to rise in early November and throughout the rest of the month. In late November, South African scientists first detected the omicron variant, which was confirmed in the US in December.

COVID-19 case rates by vaccination and booster status as of December 30, 2021 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

“We’re seeing more breakthrough cases in people who had just received their primary vaccines,” says Dr. Jim Conway, medical director of UW Health’s Wisconsin immunization program. “The good news is that even if they haven’t received the boosters, they are still very well protected against serious diseases.”

While those with the vaccine appear to be well protected, Dr. Conway says that immunity is beginning to wane for those who only received the first series of vaccines.

“You’re not really considered fully protected anymore if you just have that primary series,” he adds.

After recent studies found that experiencing a powerful infection can create “superimmunity” to the virus that causes COVID-19, should you allow yourself to get sick?

Dr. Conway describes it as “it is not a reasonable bet to attempt to make a recommendation that it is a good idea for just anyone.” He explains that the natural immunity of the initial COVID-19 strains did not last long, only about 60 to 90 days, and the delta variant did not resist. Contracting COVID-19 can lead to a serious illness that requires hospitalization or long-lasting symptoms. Instead, for those hoping to boost their immunity, Dr. Conway says the booster dose is the safest option.

Before you can roll up your sleeves and receive a booster dose, you will need to have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If you haven’t received your main series yet, you still have time.

“It is never too late to get vaccinated. There were some people who wanted to wait and see and make sure they understood how well [the vaccines] work. And you know they’re safe, ”says Dr. Conway. “This is still a pandemic, at least for hospitalized people, on the unvaccinated and certainly the unstimulated.”

The additional tips for staying safe have not changed. Doctors recommend wearing masks indoors and avoiding crowds. Although vaccines will not always prevent you from getting the virus, they will make you much more likely to stay alive and out of the hospital.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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