As the highly contagious omicron variant takes hold in New Jersey the number of new positive COVID cases is continuing to spike and hospitalizations are steadily climbing, but symptoms in those who are vaccinated and boosted are generally milder than earlier strains of the virus.

Rutgers University epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Dr. Stanley H. Weiss said omicron still poses a significant risk, and he rejected the idea that getting infected with omicron could be beneficial in the sense that it would help to build broader immunity in the population.

Omicron is still dangerous

He pointed out “some of those who are now becoming infected with omicron are very young children who don’t have protection against it and many of them are becoming ill.”

He said we don’t know for sure but “it looks like omicron may have a higher rate of disease in young kids than the other variants.”

He said if you’re vaccinated and boosted, you do get some protection against a breakthrough infection, “but even more so with the booster you get excellent protection against your illness progressing.”

Questions about immunity

Some early studies from South Africa indicate “omicron does not do very much to broaden your immunity and, in fact, there are even people who got second cases of omicron, so it doesn’t look like it induces great immune protection," he said.

Weiss said it's difficult to make definitive statements about COVID variants.

“The SARS CoV-2 virus has been managing to surprise most of the world over the last two years in finding new ways to play havoc with us. We’re all tired of it but it is not going to disappear any time soon,” he said.

He strongly recommended those who are not vaccinated to begin their two-shot series immediately and get their booster shot six months after their second shot.

Vaccine without a shot

He noted efforts continue to develop vaccines that are delivered intranasally, which could do a better job of stopping the spread of the virus in the body.

He predicted moving forward there will be “other variants brewing that will give us trouble, particularly over the next 6 to 12 months.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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