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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Mayo Clinic expert says getting a COVID booster is the best defense as omicron spreads

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Dr. Greg Poland, an epidemiologist and vaccine specialist with the Mayo Clinic, is among the experts who recommend the vaccine and booster shot as the best defense against COVID.

Epidemiologist Dr. Greg Poland says Florida's low levels of screening for the omicron variant could be dangerous for the state, but people can protect themselves by getting vaccinated.

Florida's low levels of screening for the omicron variant could be dangerous for the state, a Mayo Clinic epidemiologist says.

"Florida has done probably among the least of the larger states," Dr. Greg Poland told reporters Wednesday. "So the implication for that is, you don't know what kind of fire is coming. You don't know what kind of fire to fight."

Two omicron cases have been confirmed in Florida so far, one in Tampa and one in St. Lucie County. The first case was identified Tuesday at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa. According to the VA hospital, the patient has mild symptoms and had recently returned from international travel.

The Florida Department of Health has not released details about the other patient's symptoms. Spokesman Jeremy Redfin said privacy is necessary to "protect the personally identifiable health information."

Early studies show omicron may be significantly more transmissible than the delta variant that led to the summer surge but may cause less severe illness and fewer deaths.

Poland, a vaccine and epidemiology expert, said the vast majority of COVID cases are still caused by delta, but omicron is two to six times more infectious.

Additionally, research shows that the first round of COVID-19 vaccines appear to have 24 to 44 times less ability to neutralize the omicron variant, he said.

Still, Poland and other experts all recommend the vaccine and booster shot as the best defense against COVID. 

"The booster appears to get us back up to where we were," Poland said. "The next best thing to add to that — not instead of — is to wear a mask when you're indoors outside of your family."

According to the latest Department of Health data, just 62% of Florida residents have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, compared with 76% nationally.

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