Omicron and the virus of fear

Dr. Siegel’s tools to fight COVID fear this holiday season

Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel breaks down the facts surrounding the spread of the Omicron variant.

As I wrote in my book, “COVID: the Politics of Fear and the Power of Science,” words matter.

And we are all voyeurs attaching fear to words and deriving meanings that may distort reality. This is the brain’s hard-wiring that runs deep, and it causes us to over-personalize the risks we face.

Pfizer/BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine vials are seen in this undated photo.
(Pfizer/Handout via Reuters/File photo)

The omicron variant of COVID-19 captures the negative imagination, causing too many of us to jump to worst case scenarios. Highly contagious or easily transmissible means that the fear is easily transmissible, too.

So phrases like “sweeping across the country” consume us, and by the time we hear the balancing phrase “most cases mild,” we are already convinced that for us omicron won’t be mild, despite our booster. We understand that recovery from COVID, plus a shot or a recent booster should protect us against all but the mildest case, but still we worry.

Etched in our memories are last year’s closures and shutdowns, and we wince at each murmur of lockdowns returning, our lives once again heavily restricted or altogether ruined. President Joe Biden doesn’t appear to be a leader who assuages our fears as he scolds and threatens us with more and more mandates—ancient public health policy that hasn’t appeared effective at containing this virus.

What might help us more are real tools—in addition to the vaccine—but they don’t appear to be forthcoming. Everyone should be receiving a supply of medical-grade KN95 or N95 masks, courtesy of the government, along with a pile of rapid COVID tests. These tests can let us know whether we contracted the virus or not without having to go outside and risk spreading it to others.

Leah Lefkove, 9, shows off her vaccination sticker in Decatur, Georgia, on the first day COVID-19 vaccinations were available for children from 5 to 12 on Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

Also on my holiday wish list are the monoclonal antibodies, sotrivimab, made by GSK, uniquely suited to battle omicron if you get sick with it. And how about Paxlovid? It’s the brand new Pfizer drug (protease inhibitor) that you can take by mouth with a marked decreased risk of hospitalization as a result. This pill will markedly decrease our COVID worries, yet it waits at the FDA’s door for emergency approval.

This undated image provided by Pfizer in November 2021 shows the company’s COVID-19 pills.
(Pfizer via AP, File)

And how about those targeted boosters to the specific variants that we have long been promised? If the White House invokes the Defense Production Act and pre-orders boosters, it would go a long way toward calming fears.

“Wear a mask, distance, open a window, wash your hands” are as true as ever, but no longer seem to calm our fears. We need our latest biotechnology to do that, paid for by the government, accelerated to fit the omicron timetable. A test and a pill in every house in America will go a long way to calm our fears.

When it comes to the vaccine, I have been spending many months talking to my reluctant patients and viewers—too many of whom are not looking at this from a purely cost/benefit position, where the risk of the vaccine’s rare side effects are far outweighed by the short- and long-term risks of this treacherous virus. 

But now it turns out that fear, if channeled properly, can help with compliance. I like to say that you should be more afraid of the virus than the vaccine. Omicron is proving this premise, as many who were before reluctant are now rushing to get a vaccine motivated by fear.

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