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How to Talk to Patients About Omicron

By Anna Mueller, MS19 Jan 2022

Shortly before Thanksgiving, a new COVID variant was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). The variant was first collected in South Africa and Botswana and named Omicron. A few weeks later, the first Omicron case was identified in the US.

Nearly two years into the COVID pandemic, it can seem exhausting and overwhelming to keep getting hit with new variants of the virus.

Here’s what you need to know about Omicron and how you can communicate with your patients about this newest variant.

What to Know About Omicron

Because Omicron is so new, scientists and clinicians are still collecting data about how this strain affects patients and how it responds to vaccines. However, there are some emerging anecdotes from around the world about Omicron:

Vaccine protection appears to be less, but a booster helps: According to scientists in the UK, although the vaccines are less effective against Omicron, getting a third booster prevents approximately 75% of people from having COVID symptoms.

It’s more transmissible: Early reports indicate that Omicron seems to be more transmissible than previous variants, however, it seems less likely to cause severe disease or hospitalization.

Reinfections are possible: South African doctors report more concern about breakthrough infections in people who are already fully vaccinated, but they report being less concerned about severe illness.

How to Talk to Your Patients about Omicron

Your patients, like you, are likely frustrated that another COVID variant has emerged. With the recent spike in cases resulting from holiday get-togethers, they may be even more afraid of what it means for their health, and may come to you with questions.

When speaking to your patients about Omicron:

1. Share what you know: Because Omicron is a newer variant of a novel virus, you’re still learning how it behaves and what protective measures are effective.

2. Explain to your patients that, while the medical field is still gathering information about this new variant, data consistently shows that while it’s much more contagious than the other variants, it’s less likely to result in hospitalization for healthy, vaccinated individuals.

3. Be empathetic: When working with people who are vaccine-hesitant, avoid appearing dismissive of their concerns and worries. Being empathetic to your patient’s concerns builds and sustains trust and can open a broader dialogue that could address additional concerns.

4. Share safety information: Though the data on Omicron is still emerging, safety protocol generally remains unchanged: masking, hand washing, social distancing and vaccination.

Establishing rapport with your patients can go a long way in shaping your relationships. It’s important for patients to feel like your relationship is a partnership rather than a doctor telling them what they should or should not do.

As Omicron and the pandemic continue to evolve, keeping your patient relationships open and fostering a good rapport can help keep them safe and lessen their fears.