Unvaccinated are ‘rolling the dice’ with omicron, Arizona health expert says

Dec 31, 2021, 4:25 AM
A health worker arranges samples collected for COVID-19 test at a market in Jammu, India, Wednesday...

A health worker arranges samples collected for COVID-19 test at a market in Jammu, India, Wednesday, Dec.29, 2021. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

(AP Photo/Channi Anand)

PHOENIX – Although the omicron variant of COVID-19 tends to cause less severe illness than previous versions, “you’re still rolling the dice” and “playing with your life” if you remain unvaccinated, an Arizona health expert said Thursday.

“When head-to-head compared to delta, omicron is less likely to send a person to a hospital,” Dr. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former director of the Arizona Department of Health Services told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show.

“But, remember, you know it’s a numbers game and you’re still rolling the dice. Even though the odds of winning the craps game is better with omicron than delta, you’re still playing with your life.”

Humble said that while he expects COVID hospitalizations to rise next month because omicron is so contagious, it won’t be as much as cases are likely to soar.

“It’s all about the denominator,” he said. “Lots of new cases coming in, and even if a smaller percentage of them end up needing hospitalization, it’s still going to send more people to the hospital, at least in January and the first part of February.”

In fact, Humble said “we’re fortunate” COVID mutated into a less severe variant when it did.

“If omicron was just as severe as delta with the run up in cases that we’re going to have in January, it would have been an absolute train wreck in the hospitals.”

There’s no comprehensive data yet about the risk omicron poses to unvaccinated people vs. those who are fully vaccinated and boosted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported data for October, when delta was the predominant variant, that showed unvaccinated people with a 10 times greater risk of getting infected and 20 times greater risk of dying than people whose vaccination level included a booster dose.

The Arizona health department reported more than 5,600 new cases on Thursday, among the highest single-day additions in the past 11 months. Humble said we could soon be seeing days with double that amount, although that would still be underreporting the actual infection numbers because of at-home testing.

“I think … probably there will be some days in January that will be over 10,000 reported cases,” he said.

“But remember, there’s a whole bunch of cases that never get reported these days because people have the BinaxNow or the other rapid tests in their bathroom closet and they use it, but that doesn’t get reported.”

For details about statewide vaccine availability, the ADHS website has a vaccine-finder page with locations and other information.

For information about metro Phoenix vaccine availability, Maricopa County Public Health has a locator page that lists pharmacies, government-run sites, health clinics and pop-up distribution events. Appointments may be required depending on the provider.

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Unvaccinated are ‘rolling the dice’ with omicron, Arizona health expert says