HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – With the Omicron variant being described as more transmittable compared to the other COVID-19 variants, some residents are beginning to question the effectiveness of the vaccine.

This leaves health officials to worry as they expect case numbers to rise as we head into – and after – the holiday season.

“We don’t have the omicron variant spreading widely in West Virginia right now, but we do anticipate that will be the case in a few weeks. At some point we anticipate that it’s likely to overwhelm our systems. We are expecting that the peaks due to this variant will be higher than the peaks we’ve had previously – and that is especially in numbers of cases,”

Dr. Michael Kilkenny, Cabell Huntington Health Department Health Officer

Do the vaccines work against the Omicron variant?

“We know that the vaccines actually do work against it – they are not as effective, perhaps, as they may have been against some of the other variants, but vaccination is still our number one tool,” says Dr. Kilkenny.

He says in addition to the vaccine, the protocol taken with the previous variants – like masking and social distancing, work with this variant as well. He says taking this protocol is your best chance at staying protected during the upcoming surge.

Will there ever be an Omicron-specific vaccine?  

“Certainly, there’s no chance that we’re going to have a specific omicron-related vaccine available during this outbreak – and I’m not sure that’s even eventually going to happen. We’re going to have to learn a little bit more about what partial protection means. If we have vaccines that keep us out of the hospital, that give us mild illness – instead of severe illness, those vaccines are really, really helpful and those are the vaccines that we should be taking. It would be fantastic to have a vaccine that would prevent you from even getting it, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with COVID-19 vaccines today,” explains Kilkenny.

He also says there are steps everyone (vaccinated and unvaccinated) can take as they look forward to gathering this holiday season.

What can people do to ensure they’re safe this holiday season?

Kilkenny says the first thing you can do is wear a mask.

“If you’re not going to get vaccinated, then you’re really going to have to wear a mask and distance. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re at great risk from this illness and you should probably avoid crowded areas and you should probably avoid getting exposed and that would be your best bet,” Kilkenny says.

He continues by explaining that there are fewer restrictions for those who are vaccinated. Still, he says those who are vaccinated should consider social distancing, wearing a mask, washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces – as should those who are unvaccinated.