What to Know About Omicron Variant and COVID-19 Boosters in Nebraska

Nov. 29, 2021, 5:30 p.m. ·

Red virus drawing with needles surrounding it.
Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Mark Rupp said there's some indication that the Omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible than previous variants. (Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash)

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Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant has been detected in South Africa and has already reached Canada. While COVID-19 cases in Nebraska are up by 12.5% over the past month, one infectious disease expert said we’ve entered a new and dangerous phase of the pandemic.

The World Health Organization warns Omicron is a variant of concern, with a high potential for global spread. The variant has an increased number of spike protein mutations. That could indicate the variant is more transmissible or could evade vaccine immunity, said Dr. Mark Rup, the chief of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

"Now we don't really know either of those things right now," he said. "So I would counsel people to just, you know, keep their eye on this, but not to overreact."

Rupp suspects the variant is already in the country. He advises Nebraskans to get vaccinated or get a booster shot if you’re eligible and wear a mask. He said getting a booster doesn’t mean vaccines are not effective.

"Folks need to understand that, when all is said and done, we may end up finding that this vaccine is actually a three dose vaccine like many of our other vaccines, and that we just haven't fully figured out how to use the vaccine most effectively," he said. "What we do know is that the vaccine is quite effective."

Rupp worries communities in Nebraska with low vaccination rates are going to be hit harder by COVID-19 variants.