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The omicron variant has been detected in Massachusetts. Now what?05:07
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A health care worker seals a coronavirus swab. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
A health care worker seals a coronavirus swab. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Massachusetts has its first confirmed case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The Department of Public Health reported Saturday the variant was detected in a woman who lives in Middlesex County.

The variant was found in a woman in her 20s who traveled out of state, was fully vaccinated, reported mild symptoms and did not require hospitalization.

Dr. Shira Doron, infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, spoke with WBUR's Weekend Edition on the implications.

Interview Highlights

What lessons could we draw from the news of the first omicron case found in Massachusetts?

"I don't think I would draw many lessons at all from one case, except to know that this is not a person that had traveled internationally. And that's not surprising. We know that the variant is circulating in the United States and it is being transmitted from person to person. So we will not, at this point in time, exclusively see it in people who were outside of the country."

With the arrival of this variant, how are the concerns different — or the same — for vaccinated and unvaccinated people?

"Unvaccinated individuals are really not safe right now going into this winter with the way COVID cases are spiking very, very rapidly here in Massachusetts, presumably driven by delta. As much as we're talking about omicron, that is a potential future problem. We have a current delta problem. And I would not want to meet this virus with no immunity under my belt. So I really strongly encourage unvaccinated people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"I also have changed my tune a bit about recommending boosters: Increasingly we are seeing plenty of people who are boosted get [the] infection and the vast majority are mild. But we are seeing more and more people having severe disease, even in the face of two doses of ... Pfizer and Moderna. So I do recommend that people who are at least two months out from their J&J vaccine get another dose of any vaccine. And I am recommending that most people strongly consider a booster six months after their second dose of Pfizer or Moderna."

When will we know to what extent the omicron variant is in our communities?

"These things travel under the radar for a while, and because we don't do genetic sequencing on every single positive specimen in Massachusetts or in the country or in the world, we're only going to have a subset of the information that we might otherwise want to have. [Genetic sequencing is] a time-consuming, expensive process. Massachusetts is accepting specimens from a variety of laboratories throughout the state that do testing and on a subset of those, and we'll hear more and more about how the prevalence of the omicron variant compares to delta, which has been nearly 100% of the specimens over the last couple of months."

This segment aired on December 5, 2021.

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