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Maine health officials react to new omicron variant of COVID

Maine working with Jackson Lab to determine presence of “variant of concern” in Maine
Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 4:04 PM EST
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Maine (WABI) - President Biden urging all Americans to get vaccinated and receive a booster shot as news swells about the newly-identified COVID-19 variant, omicron.

Health officials in Maine are echoing that as COVID hospitalization rates remain high in our state.

Joy Hollowell tells us why the omicron variant could make things even worse.

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“This one’s concerning because in South Africa, it seems to be spreading quite rapidly and maybe even faster than the Delta variant,” says Dr. James Jarvis with Northern Light Health.

Omicron contains more than 30 mutations to its spike protein, prompting concerns it could be vaccine-resistant.

Vaccine manufacturers say it will take about two weeks to know.

So far, there are no recorded cases in the U/S/. but omicron was found in Canada.

“And of course, the way travel is these days, it doesn’t take much for one variant to spread to a new location,” says Jarvis.

In the meantime, Jarvis stresses vaccinations and booster shots are still the best defense.

“We have 82 patients across our 10 hospital system who are positive for COVID-19,” states Jarvis. “This is the first time I can recall that all of our hospitals with the exception of Acadia Hospital, which is a mental health facility, have at least one individual who is positive for COVID-19 as an in-patient within their facility.”

December 15th will mark one year since Mainers began receiving COVID vaccinations.

“One of the good things that we’ve found with the booster shot is it actually turns our immune system on even better than what we had with the initial two dose shot of the Pfizer and Moderna or the one dose shot for the Johnson and Johnson.”

The CDC recommends those who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get a booster 6 months after their final dose. The recommendation is two months after the single Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

“We will probably need to be getting boosters for at least the foreseeable future,” says Jarvis. “The time frame for whether that needs to be every six months, every 12 months, every two years is still variable.”

And with the holiday season now in swing, Jarvis says shots coipled with masking, social distancing, and hand washing are key to keeping things festive and bright.

“We know that people will get together, and we want to have these events happen safely,” he says.

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Governor Janet Mills released a statement regarding the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, also known as the Omicron variant:

“I have asked the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to closely track the new Omicron variant, particularly its severity, transmissibility, and its potential impact on Maine people and our health care systems.

“Omicron has not been detected in Maine or the United States as of now. Our partnership with The Jackson Laboratory, which continues to conduct genomic sequencing of positive tests to determine the presence of variants in Maine, positions us well to detect this new variant.

“We will also remain in close contact with our hospital systems and other health care providers to assess their capacity and work with them to ensure that Maine people have access to quality health care.

“The emergence of Omicron once again underscores the importance of taking commonsense steps like wearing masks when inside at public places, and, most importantly, getting vaccinated, including now getting your booster if you can. Vaccination remains the best and most effective way to protect your health and that of your loved ones, and we continue to strongly urge Maine people to get their shot, regardless of whether it’s your first or your third.”

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