The question hung in the air like a bad odor, silencing the small group of fully vaccinated and boosted friends and family at my dinner table.
“Why not just get Omicron and get it over with? It’s mild, right? And it can boost immunity?”
The fully vaccinated, boosted, well-educated friend who asked was sincere, echoing opinions heard on many social platforms.
The idea of intentionally trying to catch Omicron is “all the rage,” said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, with an exasperated sigh.
“It’s caught on like wildfire,” agreed Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“And it’s widespread, coming from all types of people, the vaccinated and boosted and the anti-vaxxers,” he added, with a warning. “You’d be crazy to try to get infected with this. It’s like playing with dynamite.”
In case the thought had crossed your mind, here are five reasons why you should not purposely try to catch Omicron.
1. It’s not a ‘bad cold’
Significant fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes, sore throats and heavy congestion are often reported even in milder cases of Omicron variant, Murphy said, leaving people debilitated for days.
“People are talking about Omicron like it’s a bad cold. It is not a bad cold,” Murphy said. “It’s a life-threatening disease.”
A recent study of over a million people published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the risk of a severe outcome from Covid-19 was higher in vaccinated people who were 65 or older, people with weakened immune systems, or people who had at least one of the following health conditions: diabetes or chronic kidney, cardiac, pulmonary, neurologic or liver disease.
However, even people without any underlying health conditions can get severely ill, Murphy said. “I have a vaccinated, boosted patient right now – over 65 with no underlying risk factors — who is in the hospital and doing poorly.”
It is true that if you catch the Omicron variant of Covid-19, as opposed to the Delta variant, “you’re less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go to the ICU (intensive care unit), less likely to be put on a mechanical ventilator and less likely to die – and that’s true of all age groups,” Offit said.
“But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a severe illness,” Offit added. “It’s just less severe. But you don’t have a 0% chance of dying. You should never want to get infected.”
2. You could get long Covid
Losing your sense of smell (and therefore your sense of taste) has become a more common symptom in mild cases of Covid-19. Studies show some 80% of people recover the ability within a month or so, but others still can’t smell or taste after six months or more. An unfortunate few may never regain those two senses.