Belgian virus expert Guido VanHam wrote an open letter to his family to help protect themselves from the Omicron variant.
The letter, published in Insider, was printed with permission from his son Peter before the Christmas holiday.
“We know you’re worried also for the kids, who are facing a difficult situation in school,” he said. “They now have to wear masks and are asked to get vaccinated even when they run a lower risk of getting sick themselves. You told me how even some of your friends reacted extremely to that news.”
At the same time, he assured his family that it is now safe for his grandsons who are between the ages of 5 and 12 to be vaccinated.
“They might even like wearing a mask if you frame it right. They get to do what adults are doing and do their part in helping people from getting sick,” he said. “My experience is that if you put a positive spin on it and ask them for their opinion, they’re often more willing to be “courageous” than you might think.”
He also said that it was good that Valeria, the mother of his newborn granddaughter, got vaccinated, since she will pass on antibodies as she breastfeeds.
“Sadly, the Omicron ‘variant’ of the COVID-19 virus is spreading all over the world now,” he said. “And I know that you’re wondering: What should we expect? Is this going to be the first wave all over again or will we be better off?”
Dr VanHam noted how Omicron can infect people who have had other variants and even people who were vaccinated several months ago.
“As you know, our healthcare systems are currently still over-burdened by COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive-care wards. I hear that’s the case for our local hospital and also for the one in Geneva,” he said. “As a result, seriously ill people without COVID-19 but with cancer or other life-threatening conditions often have to wait for treatment.”
On top of that, he noted that Omicron is sensitive to the vaccine but less so than the Delta variant, which is why a third booster dose is necessary.
“Unfortunately, even three doses don’t protect against the infection itself,” he said. “If you’ve been vaccinated three times and still become infected, you’ll often hardly notice it: You may have a ‘common cold’, a sore throat, and sometimes a fever. So I know you’re all lining up for your boosters and you’re doing the right thing.”
Dr VanHam said that the best ways for people to protect themselves are to keep their distance and wear a mask properly, wash their hands, constantly ventilate rooms, not to cough or sneeze in front of others and “make sure to keep your mask on when you speak”.
“If any of you have had close contact with an infected person, the rules of testing and quarantine (isolating yourself for one to two weeks) absolutely apply,” he said. “That’s also the case if any of the kids or your partners are infected. I know you’ll have a lot of social contacts, so please be careful and follow those best practices.”
Dr VanHam also reassured his family that vaccine companies are working on a new immunization against Omicron, the situation will improve in the summer, more people getting vaccinated means another step toward herd immunity and that the virus can’t endlessly create new strong variants.
“This pandemic will pass, just like the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago, but no one can predict when. I hope with all of you that this is our last COVID-19 winter, but I’m only a doctor and a scientist — and a father and grandfather — not a prophet …”