Is Everyone Eventually Going to Get the Omicron Variant?

People wait in line for COVID-19 testing
Experts say that exposure to the Omicron variant in the future may not necessarily result in a positive test for COVID-19.
Vanessa Leroy/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • COVID-19 cases continue to rise as the Omicron variant makes it way around the world.
  • Experts note that the new strain is highly contagious but seems to produce less serious cases.
  • They say it’s too early to tell if everyone will eventually get the coronavirus.
  • They note that it’s possible that exposure in the near future will not necessarily result in an infection.

Dr. Robert Schooley, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, San Diego, works just a couple blocks from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which was founded by legendary virologist Jonas Salk.

Schooley wonders what Salk, whose polio vaccine 68 years ago saved millions from death and disability, would say about the public’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccines.

“I believe Salk would be surprised that there is so much more resistance to the use of these vaccines that have been so successful and have had fewer complications than the older vaccines,” Schooley told Healthline.

“The public’s feelings about viruses and vaccines today are quite different from the days when Elvis Presley went on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 to get vaccinated for polio,” he said.

Within 6 months of Presley’s televised vaccination, vaccine rates among American youth skyrocketed to 80 percent.

Will we all get COVID-19?

With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, experts are wondering if everyone is going to get COVID-19 at some point.

Experts do say that Omicron could conceivably lead to herd immunity and turn COVID-19 into a relatively benign endemic illness.

Omicron is highly contagious, but its effects are generally less severe compared to previous variants.

Lower rates of hospitalization due to Omicron suggests that COVID-19 might evolve into a weaker form, similar to coronaviruses and flu viruses that have long circulated in the general population.

But Schooley said it’s too soon to make that prediction.

“If you want to wear rose-colored glasses [and say that] having a transmissible but reasonably less pathogenic virus go through the population can build up a reservoir to make it more difficult for future variants, let’s have a conversation about that in June,” he said.

Exposure vs. infection

Dr. Elizabeth Connick, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Arizona, tells Healthline that virtually everyone on Earth who is interacting with other humans without a mask is likely to have an encounter with the coronavirus at some point.

But will that exposure automatically lead to a case of COVID-19?

“We have some evidence that the vaccine not only protects people from symptoms but also provides some protection from infection,” Connick said. “Research says that each person who gets an infection will expose this virus to 10 more people. Theoretically, several scenarios are possible.”

She added that the Omicron variant could lead to herd immunity around the world.

“That is possible. I would say I am skeptical, but we don’t have the data yet,” she said.

Connick added that by mid-2022, scientists will have more data on how robust the immune response is with Omicron and how much reinfection happens.

“I think it’s premature to say anything too specific. We need more data on how much immunity it generates and how protective it is against getting it again,” she said.

Fatigued and fed up

There are several types of COVID-19 fatigue.

One is the virtually universal fatigue caused by the fact that this virus has been causing infections in people for nearly 2 years now.

Another common type of COVID-19 fatigue is happening among people who are fully vaccinated and boosted and are tired of hearing about people who are not getting vaccinated.

Kimon Brown is semiretired and active in his community of Grand Bay, Alabama, along the Gulf of Mexico.

Brown said his fatigue is not from observing the protocols, but rather from dealing with so many others who refuse to do so.

“We have managed to go 24 months without getting COVID-19, but it’s like it is not even a threat if you look at the general population here,” Brown told Healthline. “I had to stop for groceries this evening and of the 60 customers and employees, I was 1 of 2 people wearing a mask.”

Brown said there is COVID-19 all around him, and friends are testing positive.

“We had 8 cases of it among our friends in the last week. My gal, Jess, is in the hospital for emergency appendectomy and I can’t go visit. Luckily, they had a bed and can do the surgery,” he said.

“I am truly over this, But I have to protect myself and my loved ones. So, fatigue or not, I have to go on,” he said.

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