NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A wave of new COVID-19 infections now spread through the state due in part to the highly contagious omicron variant, according to Tennessee’s health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey.
“It would be completely normal for you to think, wait just a minute — you just told me last week that we had four cases in the state and now you’re telling me it’s the predominant variant? That’s how fast this thing is spreading.”
Piercey explained she suspects case numbers may actually be much higher as at-home testing has become popular and those results are rarely reported to the health department. Another factor, early indicators show symptoms caused by the omicron variant don’t mimic what we’ve become accustomed to expecting.
“If you’re thinking oh, this is just a cold, if this were COVID I would not be able to smell or taste,” explained Piercey. “That very well might not be true with omicron. That should not be your litmus test of whether or not you have COVID.”
The state also reported vaccinated people can contract the new virus strain. “With omicron, breakthrough cases are common. But we do know that vaccination, just even the primary series, does seem to protect you against those severe outcomes like hospitalization and death,” said Dr. Piercey.
What’s still unclear is how the omicron variant will affect unvaccinated individuals.
“Sometimes it will take 1-2 weeks for hospitalization to start going up after cases go up, it just hasn’t been enough time yet.”
There’s another concern facing the health department. “We are in extremely scarce supply of monoclonal antibody,” Dr. Piercey explained.
New data suggests that most of the antibody treatments, currently on the market, are powerless against omicron, Dr. Piercey continued, “There’s now only one monoclonal antibody product that works against omicron and that’s the one called Sotrovimab.”
Tennessee received 810 doses earlier this week but doesn’t anticipate another shipment until the week of January 3rd at the earliest.
There is good news when it comes to protecting those who are autoimmune compromised. The FDA granted emergency use authorization for Evushield an injection made by AstraZeneca. It’s the first antibody cocktail for COVID-19 used for pre-exposure to the virus. Dr. Piercey explained one shot could give protection for six months. If you’re high-risk, she urges you to contact your doctor to see if this treatment is right for you.