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Health security expert encourages COVID-19 boosters as omicron wave could be worse than delta

Dr. Lawler: ‘If you’re not boosted, you’re contributing to large-scale community spread.’
Dr. Lawler on omicron: 'The math catches up with you very quickly'
Dr. Lawler on omicron: 'The math catches up with you very quickly'
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 10:42 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A top health security expert and UNMC doctor on Monday said he urges boosters and supports vaccination mandates as the omicron variant ramps up in the U.S.

Dr. James Lawler, co-executive director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, joined Dr. Peter Angeletti, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Nebraska Center for Virology, in a presentation Monday about the COVID-19 omicron variant, sharing animation about how the COVID-19 virus operates.

Echoing what other national experts have said in recent days about the latest variant, Dr. Lawler noted that omicron spreads much more quickly than any other variant so far.

“Based on the math, if you have to choose between a virus that is twice as transmissible and twice as lethal, you should always choose the virus that is twice as lethal,” he said.

With each new generation of cases, the growth of the more transmissible virus is exponential, he said, and “the math catches up with you very quickly,” with more severe outcomes.

“Even if omicron is half as lethal or a third as lethal as delta, if the transmissibility data hold up, we’ll get far more hospitalizations and deaths with omicron,” he said.

Encouraging vaccination against COVID-19, Dr. Lawler also recommended those who have already been vaccinated get their boosters as soon as they’re eligible.

“If you’re not boosted, you’re contributing to large-scale community spread,” he said, noting that those with underlying comorbidities will be at increase risk of severe COVID-19.

He also said that while the CDC guidance regarding vaccination status may be changing, he only considers someone fully vaccinated if they have had the initial series of COVID-19 vaccinations plus a booster.

Dr. Lawler also talked about vaccination mandates, noting that they’ve been around for centuries, with George Washington mandating smallpox vaccination and variolation for his troops.

“We have had mandates for decades in schools,” he said. “I don’t know why this is any different. If you want to travel internationally, there are vaccine mandates for many, many countries. ... Vaccines are a tried and true public health intervention that we’ve used for hundreds of years.”

He said there have been “very, very low rates” of businesses employees quitting over vaccination mandates, which have yielded very high rates of vaccination.

“I know they are politically sometimes difficult, but the bottom line is, I look at it from the lens of a public health practitioner, and they work,” he said. “And vaccination works in communities to reduce transmission, reduce deaths, and to limit the burden of disease on our healthcare system.”

Watch Monday’s news conference

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