The World Health Organization on Wednesday cautioned against overreacting to omicron variant data so far, as the world still waits to see how the COVID-19 variant impacts the elderly.
Most research shows that the omicron variant produces mild symptoms among fully vaccinated adults and children. The Deseret News' recent article entitled “It's too early to see how the omicron variant affects the elderly” reports that thus far, anecdotal data and case reports suggest the omicron variant creates severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalizations in unvaccinated adults and unvaccinated children.
Dr. Abdi Mahamud, the WHO's incident manager for COVID-19, said it's still unknown exactly how the omicron variant will affect the elderly, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. It could be similar to vaccinated adults, by producing mild symptoms. However, it's not clear so far.
“We all want this disease to be milder, but the population it affected so far is the younger. How it behaves in the elderly population, the vulnerable — we don't know yet,” Mahamud said
“It's too early to determine,” Mahamud said. “We're optimistic, but I think we shouldn't over-interpret the data coming from South Africa.”
Evidence currently suggests that the variant offers symptoms similar to the common cold. Experts still recommend that everyone receive the COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots, as well as a COVID-19 test, if symptoms develop.
In addition, The Kansas City Star reports that doctors at the University of Kansas Health System say that the highly contagious omicron variant poses a risk to senior citizens in the Kansas City area and beyond. They echo the WHO's advice to get a booster shot.
They say it's especially critical for older adults to avoid the worst effects of the virus.
“[Seniors] are going to be the folks who struggle the most with omicron because their immune systems may not have the same memory, they may not have the same ability to respond back,” said Dr. Steven Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System at a briefing on Wednesday. “So omicron can be especially a threat.”
In December, the New York Times reported that one in every 100 of the nation's seniors has died of COVID-19. Despite being one of the most vaccinated age groups, adults 65+ comprise roughly 75% of all pandemic deaths in the U.S.
“That is a staggering thing to say out loud as someone who has practiced medicine for 35 years,” said the University of Kansas' Stites.
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Reference: Deseret News (Dec. 30, 2021) “It's too early to see how the omicron variant affects the elderly”