Omicron COVID Variant Cases Could Hit These Five States Hardest

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 could hit Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana the hardest in coming weeks, as they have the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

While there are other factors at play, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and federal government policy towards the pandemic, vaccinations are the main protecting factor against getting the Omicron variant and becoming severely ill from it.

According to data from the New York Times, as of December 22, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are the least vaccinated states in the U.S.

Idaho has only 46 percent of its population fully vaccinated, while Wyoming and Alabama each have 47 percent of their population fully vaccinated.

Mississippi and Louisiana follow with 48 and 50 percent of their populations fully vaccinated respectively.

Initial data suggests that vaccines are around 30 to 40 percent effective at preventing infection and 70 percent effective at preventing severe disease from the highly-mutated new COVID variant.

Although this data suggests that current vaccines are less effective against the Omicron variant than the Delta variant, there are promising signs that boosters provide extra protection. The early data into the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine boosters against protecting against Omicron is encouraging, and suggests it is the best protection against the new variant. Moderna announced on Monday that its boosters showed a significant increase in neutralizing antibody levels against Omicron is preliminary lab trials. Pfizer and BioNTech on December 8, achieved similar results, saying that a booster of its vaccine increases the antibody titers by 25-fold. However, the companies did not release any data.

Although that early data from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected in mid-November, suggests that it may be less severe than previous variants, due to a much smaller increase in hospitalizations and deaths than previous wave, scientists have warned that that may not mean the variant is less deadly. Instead, it may be due to South Africa's young demographic – its average age is 27 – and that antibody surveys suggest that between 70 to 80 percent of South Africans may have been previously infected by the virus, therefore much of the population already having some antibodies to fight Omicron. The higher number of vaccinations in the country compared with previous waves may also preventing the new variant from causing severe illness.

Although the vaccination rate in the U.S. is higher than South Africa's, the average U.S. age is 38 years, according to the 2019 national census bureau. Given the older average age, Omicron may prove to be more virulent in the U.S. than it is in South Africa.

In late November, federal regulators authorized Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all adults. Sixteen and 17-year-olds can also get them.

According to data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of Tuesday, only 30.4 percent of the fully vaccinated U.S. population have had the booster—or 62.2 million people. Across age groups, that represents 33.1 percent of people aged 18 or over, 44.9 percent of those 50 or over and 55.4 percent of those aged 65 or over.

Biden administration officials are encouraging Americans to get their booster shot, as Omicron spreads around the United States. Federal health officials said that Omicron is now the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for 73 percent of the new infections over the last week.

NOLA vaccine
Medical assistant Terry Nguyen administers a COVID-19 vaccination dose to Caldrick Williams at a quiet vaccination site August 19, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Louisiana has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the United States. Mario Tama/Getty