‘I’m an Epidemiologist—Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Deliberately Try To Get Omicron’

Photo: Stocksy/Santi Nuñez
Every day, the COVID-19 Omicron variant becomes more pervasive. In the last 28 days, there have been over 15 million cases of the virus in the United States alone, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the Omicron variant accounts for the vast majority of new infections. While the scientific community believes that this COVID-19 variant is more contagious and less lethal, there's a new cause for concern: Some people are deliberately trying to become infected with Omicron, and they're putting themselves and their communities at risk in the process.

Generally speaking, it's never a scientifically sound decision to expose yourself to infection intentionally. "It's not a good idea to knowingly expose yourself to infection," says Gwen Murphy, PhD, MPH, director of epidemiology at Let's Get Checked." You can never be sure how your body will respond to a new pathogen. As we see every day, an infection that is relatively asymptomatic for one person can be life-changing and life-threatening for someone else. Not only are you risking your health, but you may be exposing your family and friends to infection, which might be particularly high risk to them."

Experts In This Article
  • Gwen Murphy, PhD, MPH, Dr. Gwen Murphy is an epidemiologist and is passionate about public health and cancer prevention.
  • Jyotsna Shah, PhD, infectious disease expert; president and laboratory director of IGeneX

Jyotsna Shah, PhD, president and laboratory director of COVID testing lab IGeneX, adds that even a commonplace disease like childhood chickenpox has the potential to be catastrophic. "The truth is, you never know how each infection will proceed. You may be lucky, but, unfortunately, you may not," he tells Well+Good.

That said, there are some COVID-19 specific reasons to take the proper precautions (read: vaccinations, masks, and social distancing) to avoid omicron exposure. First thing's first: Researchers have found no evidence to suggest that contracting the Omicron variant will offer you immunity against future variants. "For those who have suffered a past infection, we cannot say for sure if they report long-term immunity, and we have certainly recorded cases of reinfection," says Dr. Shah. However, research tells us that the COVID-19 booster is at least 80 percent effective in protecting people from severe infections.

Second, even if you're at risk for severe cases of COVID-19 (like those with asthma, the immunosuppressed, and the elderly), there are still no guarantees that your body will handle the virus well. "There are many reports of the young, without preexisting conditions, being hospitalized. How do you know that won't be you or someone you love?" says Dr. Shah. It's a challenging but crucial question to consider.

It's also important to remember that COVID-19 can cause trouble after the CDC-recommended quarantine period. For many people, this virus may have long-term health consequences. "Many of those who recover from a relatively 'mild' COVID infection may suffer from long-term COVID damage, particularly in their heart and lungs," says Dr. Shah. COVID-19 "long haulers" can feel unwell for weeks, months, or even longer with symptoms that range from cough and joint pain to mental health symptoms, per The Mayo Clinic. And here's some more food for thought: Although you may get COVID-19 without any long-term issues, intentionally exposing yourself means that you could also expose your friends, family, or community to a virus that may be harmful or even lethal to them. "To intentionally infect yourself with omicron is to roll the dice not only with your own health but with that of your friends and family, some of whom may be immunocompromised," says Dr. Murphy.

Like so many decisions surrounding COVID-19, it's important to remember that your choices don't happen in a vacuum; they impact the larger population. "I know that the urge to 'get it over with' can be strong. We're all eager to get back to 'real-life.' However, the best way to return to the life we miss is by avoiding any long-term COVID health consequences and keeping ourselves and our community safe. Purposefully infecting yourself is absolutely the wrong way to go about this," says Dr. Shah. Instead, we all need to remember the basics: Get vaccinated, wear your mask when you're indoors, and social distance.

"The benefits of the vaccine are now well known and evident consistently in data from across the world," says Dr. Murphy. "The consequences of becoming infected with COVID are equally clear in hospitalization and death rates."

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