The World Health Organization recommends those over 60 or with comorbidities postpone travel due to the Omicron variant of the virus. Many people are reconsidering travel, though United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says he expects bookings won’t fall as much as they did from the Delta variant.
It goes almost without saying that the advice is different for someone who is immunocompromised and may be less protected by vaccines and less able to mount an immune response to the virus. However for most of us the right answer isn’t postponing travel, it’s boosters.
- Vaccines almost certainly continue to confer strong protection against Covid-19, including the Omicron variant. The spike protein of this variant is different enough that breakthrough infections are even more common before, but there’s still probably robust protection against hospitalization and severe disease. As Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage puts it, “I would fall off my chair if it turned out that the vaccines’ efficacy against serious illness was seriously affected.”
- Even though we’re still vaccinating against the original Wuhan strain of the virus, boosters do more than restore waning antibodies they seem to generate antibodies that are more broad-based and this robustness should confer strong protection against Omicron.
In the event of a breakthrough infection, we’re able to treat Covid-19 far better than we were early in the pandemic.
- While Regeneron antibodies seem to be much less effective against Omicron (they’ll reformulate it), GlaxoSmithKline’s are performing well.
- We will soon have Paxlovid, 89% effective against hospitalization when taken within 3 days of symptom onset in a phase 3 trial (and a mechanism unlikely disrupted by Omicron). The FDA needs to approve it now.
- There’s fluvoxamine which is already approved and appears effective though not at the levels of Paxlovid.
These treatments should allow Covid-19 to be manageable. They should allow us to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Covid-19 is with us and is already endemic. We should embrace the tools science has given us, honor the people who have worked tirelessly to give us our lives back, and expedite the path towards updating these tools as-needed.
What we know about the variant is still speculative, but so far it appears as though it may not be more inherently infectious than Delta – but can spread more rapidly at this point in the pandemic because of immune escape. Get boosted!
People who shouldn’t have traveled before Omicron still probably shouldn’t. For the rest of us if you want a good reason not to travel internationally it’s that an infection will freeze you in place. You may be ‘fine’ but you won’t be able to travel. So you could be stuck outside the country longer than planned. You need to be prepared for that contingency if you’re intending international travel.
In the meantime pick up rapid tests, use them before gathering indoors with large groups, and carry them in your travel bag. You want to know as soon as you’re infected in order to be responsible (not infect others) and to begin treatment as quickly as possible.
The Abbott self-test works for returning to the U.S. if taken the day prior to departure using their ‘guided’ feature in the Navica app. Sometimes wait times for an agent are long – in that case, select a Spanish-speaking agent, since those agents seem to speak English as well.