Conversation Guide: Variants of Concern

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What is a variant?

Viruses are always changing to try to outsmart our bodies and to assure it can survive through spreading to new people. When a big change happens, scientists call it a new variant. Some variants disappear and never cause harm, while others can make a virus easier to spread, harder to treat, and/or more deadly. When variants occur, scientists and experts monitor them closely. Many variants of the COVID-19 virus have already been discovered and are being monitored. Certain variants are more successful and present a greater danger than others, like Delta and Omicron. These are called variants of concern.

Below are answers to commonly asked questions about variants of concern:

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What is the Omicron variant?

Omicron is a variant of COVID-19 that was detected in November 2021. There is a lot we do not know about Omicron. Scientists are working to answer questions like whether Omicron makes people sicker or is spread more easily. 

The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from variants like Omicron is to be fully vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you are much more likely to get infected with a variant, get seriously ill, and spread COVID-19 to others.

If you are already vaccinated, it is best to get a booster a few months after your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or your first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). Boosters are shots you get after you are fully vaccinated so that you can stay protected against COVID-19. Boosters may broaden your protection against new variants like Omicron.

What is the Delta variant?

Delta is a variant of COVID-19 that was discovered in December 2020. Since then, it has spread all over the world. It was first found in the U.S. in March 2021 and is the most common variant in the United States. Scientists are concerned about Delta because it spreads more easily and may cause more severe illness.

The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from variants like Delta is to be fully vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you are much more likely to get infected with a variant, get seriously ill, and spread COVID-19 to others.

If you are already vaccinated, it is best to get a booster if it has been more than six months since your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or two months since the first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). Boosters are shots you get after you are fully vaccinated so that you can stay protected against COVID-19. Boosters may broaden your protection against new variants like Omicron.

Are vaccines effective against variants of concern?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines in the United States are effective against the Delta variant and other variants that have been discovered. For vaccines with two doses, it is important to complete both doses for greatest protection.

It is also best to get a booster if it has been a few months since your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or your first shot of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

For more information, please see GAVI’s “Five Things we Know about the Delta Variant.”

How do I protect myself, my family, and community from the Delta and Omicron variants?

The best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from variants is to be fully vaccinated. If you are not vaccinated, you are much more likely to get infected with a variant, get seriously ill, and spread it to others.

It is also best to get a booster if it has been a few months since your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or the first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

Getting our entire communities vaccinated is one way to prevent dangerous variants from developing in the first place. As more unvaccinated people are infected with the virus, there are more chances for variants to develop. By getting many people vaccinated, we are making it less likely for the virus to spread and change.

Wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, avoiding gatherings with many people, staying home when you are sick and washing your hands frequently are other ways to keep yourself and others safe.

I have heard that fewer people are getting COVID-19 now in the United States. Does this mean I do not need to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

No. As long as there are a significant number of people who are not vaccinated, even if the number of cases goes down for a while, it will always come back and surge again. This may happen at different times in different places, but it will continue to occur.  

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your community against COVID-19 and variants. Almost all COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are among unvaccinated people.

Because the variants are so common and many communities no longer require protections like mask wearing and social distancing, the risk is much higher for those who are not fully vaccinated.

Can people get COVID-19 even after being fully vaccinated? If so, does this mean the vaccine does not work?

When people to get COVID-19 after they are vaccinated, scientists call it a “breakthrough infection.”

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.

For more information, please see CDC’s What You Should Know About the Possibility of COVID-19 Illness After Vaccination.”

Which COVID-19 vaccine would you recommend?

All COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States are safe, effective, and decrease your risk for severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Therefore, when considering being vaccinated, the vaccine recommended is the one that is available to you (whether it is Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson). 

After your initial vaccine course, it is best to get a booster a few months after your second dose of a two-shot vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer), or your first dose of a one-shot vaccine (Johnson & Johnson).

The Rise of the Variants was a video design by and for youth and young adults. Learn more.