Explainer: Why you should still avoid Omicron

The fast-spreading Omicron variant.

It causes milder illness compared with previous versions of the coronavirus.

And that has furthered the idea that COVID-19 poses less of a risk than in the past.

U.S. PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, SAYING: "You know, be concerned about Omicron, but don't be alarmed."

Some are asking, why bother avoiding the virus now, if everybody will be exposed sooner or later?

But here's why experts say you should still avoid catching Omicron.

1) You could still become very ill

The extraordinary spread of Omicron in many countries means that in absolute numbers, more people will experience severe disease.

Recent data from Italy and Germany show that people who are not vaccinated are far more vulnerable when it comes to hospitalization, intensive care, and even death.

DIRECTOR OF NIAID, DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, SAYING: "Even if you have a less of a percentage of severity, when you have multi-, multi-, multi-fold, more people getting infected, the net amount is you're still going to get a lot of people that are going to be needing hospitalization."

2) You could still infect others

While you might become only mildly ill, you could still pass the virus to someone else at risk for critical illness.

That’s even if you have antibodies from prior infection or from vaccination, according to experts.

DIRECTOR OF THE WHO, TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, SAYING: "Let's be clear. While Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus. Particularly for those who are unvaccinated. Almost 50,000 deaths a week is 50,000 deaths too many."

3) Omicron’s long-term effects are still unknown…

Infections with earlier variants of the coronavirus sometimes have caused the lingering, debilitating long-haul COVID syndrome – known to many as "Long Covid.”

It’s still also unclear is whether Omicron will have any of the "silent" effects seen with earlier variants, such as self-attacking antibodies, sperm impairments, and changes in insulin-producing cells

4) Medications are in short supply

Omicron treatments are so limited that doctors have to ration them.

Two of the three antibody drugs used during past COVID-19 waves are ineffective against this variant.

The third, Sotrovimab, from GlaxoSmithKline, is in short supply.

As is a new oral antiviral treatment called Paxlovid from Pfizer Inc, that appears effective against Omicron.

That means if you get sick, you might not have access to treatments.

5) Hospitals are filling up

In the United States, for example, hospitals have been overwhelmed by the surge of COVID-19 cases driven by Omicron.

And staff shortages have compounded the problem.

Jodie Parsons is a nurse in Ohio.

"I've never seen anything like it since I've been a nurse. I was an OPM (before becoming an RN. And I can tell you that there has been more deaths that I've seen the whole time in just one week than I normally see in a month, let alone in a day."

The record number of infected patients has meant that hospitals have had to postpone elective surgeries and cancer treatments.

And during past surges, overwhelmed hospitals have been unable to properly treat other emergencies, such as heart attacks.

6) Finally, more infections, mean more new variants

Omicron is the fifth highly significant variant of the original SARS-COV-2, and it remains to be seen if the ability of the virus to mutate further will slow down.

High infection rates also give the virus more opportunities to mutate.

And there's no guarantee that a new version of coronavirus would be more benign than its predecessors.

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