Marty Makary is an esteemed surgeon at Johns Hopkins but he’s also trended consistently towards optimism on COVID and away from restrictions, which is one reason Fox likes him so much. In February of this year he published an op-ed titled, “We’ll Have Herd Immunity by April.”
I appreciate his caveat here, though: Enjoy your holidays if you’ve acquired some immunity. Yesterday Nicole Saphier, another M.D., told Fox viewers that letting Omicron circulate might be a good thing insasmuch as it’ll help spread natural immunity. But we don’t know yet that the variant is mild for the non-immune, which includes members of Fox’s vax-skeptical audience. Hence Makary’s nudge for viewers to go get their shots before carrying on as usual.
Makary said, “Well, I would tell people to feel good about your immune level of protection. People need the booster unless they had Covid in the past already. That functions as a vaccine dose. If you’ve had the J&J dose, one was probably not the right number and you would need a second dose if you want good immune protection.”
He added, “For everybody else, I would say there’s no need to do anything different. We’re getting new data now on Omicron, and it appears to be more mild. It will be the dominant virus Covid strain in the United States probably by February. I’m not sure that is something to worry about, since it will displace probably a more dangerous virus that is Delta.”
Makary said he refers to Omicron as the “omicold,” adding that “we need to think about it in terms of a common cold virus like rhino virus.” He also opined that Covid-19 will be “ubiquitous,” and also claimed colleges and universities do not need to close down while he simultaneously questioned the need booster shots for young people.
Actually, Mediaite’s transcript doesn’t quite match up with what Makary said if you watch the clip. “We know that immune protection in people over 65 really needs a booster unless those people have had COVID in the past already” is what he says. But the CDC recommendation for boosters isn’t limited to people over 65. Every adult who’s six months past their second dose needs a third due to waning immunity. The protection provided by two doses against Omicron is weaker than it is from three.
His “keep calm and carry on” argument gets back to the point in this morning’s post about how Omicron is mild at an individual level but potentially disastrous at a community level. If you’re immunized and all you’re worried about is your own risk, you’re likely worried over nothing. That’s Makary’s point. But if you’re worried that vulnerable people will struggle to fend off Omicron as the variant spreads and the crisis at understaffed hospitals deepens, then you have to grapple with one’s individual responsibility to try to slow the spread. What should you avoid doing to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus? But there’s a major catch with Omicron: Realistically, there may be no way to avoid infection short of total self-isolation. With a virus as infectious as this one, any sort of contact with the outside world will put you at risk.
You can’t hide from Omicron unless you’re locked away from the world, so why bother to try? That seems to be Makary’s view. Just get vaccinated and wait for your infection, which should be over in a matter of days.
The “omi-cold” labeling isn’t helpful, though, since viewers who aren’t vaxxed are destined to take that as a signal that the variant is so mild that they needn’t bother with the shots. And Makary is more optimistic than, say, Trevor Bedford is that Omicron will eventually displace Delta. It might. But it also might be distinct enough genetically that the two end up co-existing side by side, with immunity from one failing to confer immunity from the other.
Some organizations are coming around to Makary’s view that draconian restrictions won’t work with a virus as contagious and seemingly mild as Omicron. The NFL announced today that they’ll try to reduce the spread within teams by reinstating protocols “such as mandatory mask-wearing in team facilities, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms, restrictions on activities outside the facility and all-virtual meetings.” But the league is also realistic about whether that’s likely to work. So they’re going to loosen the rules to help vaccinated players who’ve been infected to get back on the field:
Also effective immediately, the league and the NFLPA will institute changes in the return-to-play COVID-19 protocols that will make it easier for players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to return to practice and games.
Under the existing protocols, a vaccinated individual who tests positive for COVID-19 has to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart before he is cleared to return. The new protocols relax that requirement and could, according to the source, enable teams like the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team to get some players back for this weekend’s games.
I’m guessing schools will also have to adjust their quarantine policies to get kids back into class quickly after testing positive considering how many of them will over December and January. If we see another wave of closures — and we might — there’ll be a reckoning from exasperated parents, particularly if Omicron is as mild as it seems to be. “Infected but fine” will have to be a new category for which institutions like schools and sports devise an accommodation. There’ll be too many people in that category to isolate all of them for long stretches this winter.