One week after lab testing uncovered the first case of the omicron variant in Minnesota, much remains unknown about this latest strain of the coronavirus.
We don't know if it's more transmissible, though some recent small studies suggest it may be. The data is too limited to draw any conclusions about whether it is more likely to cause severe illness. And it's still being determined how effective the existing COVID vaccines may be in preventing omicron-caused illness.
Yet medical experts and health leaders are in near-universal agreement with their current message to people: get vaccinated, get a booster.
Mayo Clinic called it "more important than ever" to get vaccinated, with infectious diseases expert Dr. John O'Horo explaining how even the early data points in that direction.
"These are studies where they try to look at how much antibody does it take to neutralize the virus in a test tube," he said. "What they found in these studies is that you need a significantly higher titer, or concentration of antibodies, to neutralize omicron compared to delta or the previous variants. However, what they also found is that it will still neutralize at these higher titers."
Essentially, the vaccine will likely still help your immune system blunt the initial omicron blow.
Pfizer-BioNTech Wednesday said preliminary lab studies show two doses of its COVID vaccine appear to lack some of the needed punch against omicron, but that a third booster dose provided enough juice to "neutralize the omicron variant."
The Atlantic spoke with an immunologist, likening a booster of the current vaccines — imperfect they may be against omicron — to cushioning a fall. The more protection you have, the less damage will be done.
Minnesota's health officials have stressed the importance of not just getting vaccinated, but also continuing other protection measures, in what they've described as a "layered" approach: wear a face mask, socially distance, wash your hands frequently, stay home when sick, get tested .
“We still have more to learn about omicron, but the most important thing we can do right now is to use the tools we have available to make it as hard as possible for this virus to spread,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said last week.
O'Horo also noted the vaccine's effectiveness against the delta variant, which accounts for the vast majority of the thousands of new cases being reported in Minnesota every day. The vaccines have proven to be "incredibly effective" at preventing severe illness and death caused by the delta variant.