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New variant raising concern, but not panic, ahead of holidays

WESTWOOD — Will anticipation this holiday season get upstaged by apprehension? It’s by no means certain. But the Omicron variant has certainly put a damper on what was at least looking, by outward appearance, to be a fairly normal run-up to Christmas.

“Makes me nervous,” said Ashley Higgins of Weymouth as she rolled a cart away from Target at the University Station shopping center. “Especially because I have three kids who aren’t vaccinated.”

Still, Higgins has no plans at this time to change her family’s holiday plans.

“We’re still gonna do the same thing,” she said. “We just stay close inside and not go anywhere.”

Keeping it close and keeping it small is also the strategy for Rachael Serillo and Naz Nash, visiting the area from Summit, New Jersey.

“We don’t go out too often,” Serillo said. “We’re more homebodies. So we just got our new board game -- Yahtzee. So we’re just going to stay in and play.”

Alyssa Alphin of Canton felt Thanksgiving was pretty normal this year -- and she’s hopeful Christmas is the same. But with three children under five -- and therefore not vaccinated, she’s keeping her options open.

“There’s always the risk of someone getting sick while they’re at school,” she said. “But we stay pretty local for the holidays, so hopefully they’ll go okay.”

Dr. William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease and vaccine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center says right now in the United States the Delta variant remains the biggest problem. It’s not only spreading rapidly to unvaccinated people -- but also contributing to the rise in so-called breakthrough infections.

He recommends attending holiday gatherings where everyone is vaccinated and considering the use of rapid Covid tests just before such events.

Theoretically, the current vaccines should offer some protection against serious symptoms from the new variant, because the vaccines allow for antibody immunity and cellular-level immunity, said Roger Shapiro, MD, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“But we really don’t know yet,” Shapiro said. “It’s just still too early to say with this particular variant. Because it really does have a large number of mutations and it’s quite different than the Delta variant.”

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