The Missoula City County Health Department released a ZOOM conversation with several local physicians regarding the new Omicron variant, COVID vaccinations and other related topics.

One of the first to speak was Dr. Claude Tonnere, infectious disease physician at Providence St. Patrick Hospital, who answered a question about the serious nature of the new Omicron variant.

“I would say from what we know, first of all this variant was identified at the end of November, so a lot of what we know is not even two months old,” said Dr. Tonnere. “So we always want to put that caveat. We know it's more contagious. It was initially obvious from South African data, and then but multiple countries in Europe start to have a spike, and same thing in the U.S. The biggest thing I think we know from previous variants, and this is the same for Omicron, is that crowded indoor spaces are the worst place to be for the risk of acquiring the virus.”

Another family physician, Dr. Rod Stenger from Partnership Health Center, addressed a question about whether it is wiser to just get the Omicron virus and allow the body to develop natural antibodies.

“Our vulnerable populations can still get very critically ill from Omicron,” said Dr. Stenger. “So I don't think our advice as health professionals would ever be for somebody to go and intentionally get an infectious disease. I think the other big concern in the community right now is just one of healthcare capacity. Even though we aren't seeing as many people who are critically ill and needing to be intubated in the ICU on a ventilator, we're still seeing a lot of people sick enough to require care in our hospitals at a time when a bunch of our own caregivers are still out sick, either themselves or caring for sick family members are exposed. So we don't want to do anything in the community right now to increase transmission.”

Pediatrician and pediatric hospitalist at Community Medical Center, Dr. Lauren Wilson also weighed in on the topic of a complication that can occur with the Omicron variant.

“For children as well, we know that even if you are only mildly ill with a COVID infection, you can have longer lasting symptoms that can really affect you for several weeks, if not months,” said Dr. Wilson. We also have MIS-C, an inflammatory condition that can happen after COVID infection is over. We're seeing that happen even in children who didn't have symptoms the first time around, and we have no reason to think that that would be any different with Omicron. So avoiding infection in the first place is the best way to avoid MIS-C, and the vaccine offers protection against that as well.”

One question also answered by Dr. Wilson was which was more dangerous, getting the Omicron virus or getting the COVID vaccine.

“I really did the analysis on that and followed the FDA’s analysis really closely and they looked at what are possible side effects of the vaccine and what are things that can happen to you if you get COVID infection and it was very clearly weighted in favor the fact that it is much, much safer to get the vaccine than to get a COVID infection as a child, or in any of the age groups that we're currently vaccinating.”

View the full conversation here.


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