Jacksonville doctor agrees: Omicron no reason to panic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – President Biden on Monday told the nation that there was no need to panic about the new COVID-19 variant omicron, and a Jacksonville-area coronavirus researcher agrees with that approach.

Dr. Michael Koren, with the Jacksonville Center for Clinical research, not only researches COVID-19 and its variants -- he also oversaw local Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and booster shot trials.

He points out that all viruses naturally mutate.

“Every year there is a different type of flu strain. Every year, there is a different type of RSV strain. This is what viruses normally do and we we’re seeing the same thing for COVID-19,” Koren said.

RELATED: Coronavirus special section | Epidemiologist looks at risks of omicron variant

He says that COVID research suggests the virus is here to stay like the seasonal flu. He also says the Omicron variant is not going to create major changes in the way our bodies fight the virus, especially if we’re already vaccinated or have had previous COVID infections.

“Even if people get re-infected, they tend to have an immune system that’s prepared,” Koren said. “So when your immune system is prepared either by virtue of the vaccine or by a previous infection, you’re much more likely to have a mild illness.”

Koren says research on the booster shots is showing evidence of protecting people from not only the original strain of COVID-19, but variants as well.

He says the travel restrictions on flights from South Africa to the U.S. are reasonable due to the Omicron variant’s dominance there.

“If you have U.S. citizens that need to come back, there should be some sort of protocol that allows them to be in quarantine for a period of time where we determine they are not infected and they’re safe to come back into population because why make things more complex?” Koren said. “But even having said that, don’t freak out.”

Dr. Koren says locally, COVID hospitalizations are significantly down and so are COVID deaths. However, he says the number of patients showing up at doctor’s offices with the flu and RSV is steadily increasing.

About the Author:

Award-winning broadcast and multimedia journalist with 20 years experience.