COVID-19 infections are spiking again in Alaska and most are likely due to the fast-spreading Omincon variant, state heath officials said in a briefing Thursday, Jan. 6.
Infections are rising sharply across the nation and 95.4 percent are the new variant, state medical director Dr. Anne Zink said.
It’s almost certain that the national trend will bear out in Alaska when testing is done, Zink said.
The good news is that Omicon’s symptoms don’t seem to be as harsh as earlier variants like Delta. That means there are fewer hospitalizations, but hospitals are still stressed by staff shortages due to medical workers themselves coming down with Omicron, Zink said.
Meanwhile, vaccinations are still offering protection. Unvaccinated people are ten times more likely to require hospitalization after being infected than those who are vaccinated, she said.
The number of Alaskans now fully vaccinated is now 60.7 percent of the population with 67.9 percent having received at least one of two recommended doses. Even one dose of vaccine offers some protection, medical professionals say.
Over 22 percent of Alaskans have also received booster shots after having had two doses administered, according to statistics from the state Department of Health and Social Services displayed at the briefing Thursday.
In other developments, Dr. Zink said the recommended time for a booster for the Pfizer vaccine has been shortened to five months after a second shot rather than six months and to 28 days for those with health conditions that weaken immune systems.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines boost effectiveness in blocking infections to 75 percent and 95 percent after two shots and a booster.
Dr. Zink also warned that treatments for people who have become infected are in very short supply due to high demand. Supplies of antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies are particularly tight. Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory to fight a particular infection, in this case, SARS-CoV-2m and are given directly in an infusion.
In one other development, free testing for COVID-19 at Alaska airports will be ended Jan. 31 but that the Department of Health and Social Services is working with local communities to make information available on other test locations.
Many municipalities are also providing information on test locations, Dr. Zink said.