As we witness the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), people have begun to worry. Initially discovered in South Africa, the variant is cause for some concern as preliminary reports suggest that the variant could potentially increase its transmissibility and its severity. Another unknown is whether those who are vaccinated retain protection from this variant.
As we have learned, COVID-19 does not know borders, and as such, this variant has begun to spread to other countries and has begun to infect people outside of South Africa.
To ease some fears and to offer an update on the American fight against the pandemic, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. held a press conference this past weekend to address the variant and to announce travel restrictions on several nations in southern Africa. Although Biden stressed caution, he also underscored that people should not panic about the variant.
The variant comes at a time when people are growing tired of the pandemic: The almost constant emergence of new variants, a sense of protection offered by immunization and a return to a seemingly normal holiday season have made people ready to put the pandemic squarely in the past. People are suffering from pandemic fatigue, and they want to be able to enjoy the holiday season without worrying.
While we should not panic, we should begin to exercise some more caution. As the holidays are upon us and since many see these holidays as the first opportunity to gather fully with family and friends in two years, we do not want to make things worse. We want to be able to enjoy the holidays fully and together.
Due to South Africa’s transparency, we have been given time to prepare and mitigate the brunt of this new strain. With this time, we must enact the best pandemic practices so that we can continue enjoying the holidays. As a result, we must make sure we are vaccinated, and if we are vaccinated and eligible, we must seek out booster shots, we must return to adhering to masking protocols more strictly and we must get tested more frequently.
These steps offer a simple path to ensuring the holiday season continues with little disruption. The omicron variant is coming here — that seems inevitable — but we do not have to suffer the same way we did nearly two years ago. We can take steps, we can apply what we have learned about the nature of pandemics over these years and insulate ourselves from the worst effects.
While we can do these things, new strains will continue to emerge until there is global vaccine equity. We need to make sure policymakers understand this and begin to distribute vaccines to every country and administer vaccines to all people — regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status.
Vaccines must be made more available, and more people must begin to get vaccinated as different variants continue to emerge. Until more people are vaccinated — both nationally and globally — we will continue to live in this state of uncertainty, and even fear, that is beneficial to no one. Vaccines offer freedom from the virus. That point is made even clearer when new variants emerge.
While so much of the pandemic must be handled at the national level, Rutgers students deserve better communication and clarity from the administration. Rutgers needs to communicate better to its students about the variant and about what is being done to keep students safe. Rutgers has had a strong response to the pandemic — they must continue by taking the variant seriously and by being transparent to students.
One easy avenue for Rutgers to take immediately would be for the University to better advertise the availability of boosters on campus and how easy it is for students to schedule their booster shot. Students can follow this link to make an appointment and get their booster. Boosters are an easy and effective way to minimize the threat of the variant.
Rutgers should also communicate better with the students about the nature of the variant and, even more generally, the state of the pandemic. There has been national confusion over who can get a booster and whether you can mix the vaccines for boosters.
At this point, every adult who has received the vaccine is eligible for a booster six months after their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Additionally, if you received the Pfizer vaccine originally, you can get a Moderna booster.
Rutgers should send an email that clears these issues up and makes sure the Rutgers population is aware of these facts so that people have a coherent sense of what they can get and what they should do.
While we all contend with the new variant, we must not overreact. It is easy to worry, but worrying achieves nothing. We can take direct steps that mitigate the effects of the variant. We can get boosters, we can wear our masks, we can exercise greater caution. In fact, we must do these things. And when we do these things, we will finally be able to enjoy the holidays with friends and family.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.