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Should I contract Omicron to be over and done with Covid-19?

We asked the experts

02 February 2022 - 12:33
According to experts, purposely contracting Covid-19 is not recommended.
According to experts, purposely contracting Covid-19 is not recommended.
Image: 123RF/jarun011

Many reports about Omicron have described the variant as “mild” compared with previous variants.

For this reason — and perhaps because Covid-19 fatigue has set in — some people have started thinking about purposely contracting Covid-19 as a way to get the coronavirus over and done with.

We asked a trio of experts if there is concern about people contracting Covid-19 on purpose with the idea Omicron won’t affect them very severely and in the hopes of attaining a degree of future immunity.

Here’s what they had to say:

PROF FELICITY BURT

Head of the research group in medical virology in the department of medical microbiology and virology at the University of the Free State

It would not be recommended to purposely get infected with any variant of Covid-19, including Omicron. There are multiple reasons why this would be inadvisable.

The severity of disease varies between different people, and severe disease and fatalities have been recorded in people with no obvious or pre-existing comorbidities, therefore exposing oneself to potential severe disease.

Vaccination provides a safe alternative to induce an immune response that will protect against severe disease with boosters at recommended intervals

There is also the risk of developing long Covid after natural infection.

The duration of antibody response and protection is not well defined and contracting Omicron may not be “getting it over and done” if the immune response wanes with time.

In addition, even if a person only develops mild disease they risk transmitting the virus to others, including family, friends and colleagues, who may have an increased risk of severe disease.

Vaccination provides a safe alternative to induce an immune response that will protect against severe disease with boosters at recommended intervals to maintain protective immunity.  

PROF FRANCOIS VENTER

Divisional director of Ezintsha research group at the University of the Witwatersrand and an infectious diseases expert

It’s a vicious virus. Even in vaccinated people, while the protection from hospitalisation and death from the vaccine is excellent, people may get pretty ill in many cases,  like bad influenza.

If you aren’t vaccinated, it’s an insanely risky way to get immunity, not just because of the risk of hospitalisation and death, but also of long Covid.

In addition, we may be able to get better ideas about the best vaccine schedules, so I would recommend trying to delay being infected for as long as possible.

PROF VERONICA UECKERMANN

Head of the infectious diseases department at the University of Pretoria

“Getting Omicron and getting it over with” is not the most responsible approach.  

Our current experience shows Omicron is less likely to cause severe disease than the previous variants, especially in vaccinated individuals. However, it is much more transmissible than previous variants.

If you have a smaller percentage of severe disease, but the total number of people with the disease is much larger, the maths still ends in a significant number of people with severe disease and a significant risk of mortality. The literature shows the severity and mortality of Omicron-mediated Covid-19 disease is larger than influenza and is not the “common cold” it may be made out to be.

We know traditional risk factors increase the chance of severe disease, but these risk factors are not exclusively associated with severe disease. We see patients with severe disease who have none of these risk factors.

When a person “exposes” themselves to Omicron, they do not have any guarantee they would not get severe disease. Genetics, immune responses and inflammatory responses all play a role. A person who is infected is also at risk of transmitting the disease to others.

As clinicians we are relieved to see less severe disease as we have hospital beds open to take care of sick patients. However, we caution very strongly against complacency that could cost lives.


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