Ahead of Holiday Gatherings, VDH Urges Virginians to Get Vaccinated and Boosted and to Practice Mitigation Steps as Omicron Variant Spreads

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 21, 2021
Logan Anderson, VDH PIO

Ahead of Holiday Gatherings, VDH Urges Virginians to Get Vaccinated and Boosted and to Practice Mitigation Steps as Omicron Variant Spreads

(RICHMOND, Va.) — With Virginians expected to gather with family and friends over the holidays, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reminds everyone to take steps to protect themselves, their friends and family, and the community from COVID-19 as the Omicron variant spreads.

“We may be through with COVID-19, but COVID-19 is not through with us,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, M.D., M.A. “Unlike a year ago, however, we have tools to protect ourselves. The vaccines we have now are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to infection with the Omicron variant, especially among those who have received their booster dose. If you’re not vaccinated or have not gotten your booster dose, now is the time to do so.”

Virginia recorded 4,437 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that based on latest projections, they believe the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is now the dominant variant in the United States.

CDC surveillance data indicates that the Omicron variant represents about 73% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. for the week ending Dec. 18, an increase from the week ending Dec. 11. In the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Region 3, which includes Virginia, CDC data indicates Omicron represents 75.8% of cases.

More than 87% of adults in Virginia have had at least one vaccine dose, and 77.7% of adults are fully vaccinated. Of the total population, 67.1% are fully vaccinated.

Overall, 6.5 million Virginians have had at least one dose, while 1.8 million have had the booster shot. Health experts strongly urge people to get vaccinated if they are not, and if they are, to get the booster shot for greater protection.

Because breakthrough cases are possible, in addition to getting vaccinated it’s important to take additional precautions, such as wearing a mask in public indoor spaces.

Layered strategies that have proved effective in mitigating past surges are still effective against Omicron. To repeat, those strategies include:

  • Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 now.
  • Getting your booster dose now.
  • Wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.
  • During the holiday season, consider taking a COVID-19 test prior to gathering with others, especially if you plan to visit with people who are vulnerable or at high risk for severe illness if they develop COVID-19.

VDH continues to offer community testing events and is distributing antigen test kits through a collaboration with public libraries. VDH also has a partnership with Walgreens pharmacies to offer free COVID-19 antigen tests, using Abbott BinaxNOW tests, at many stores across the state. Please visit the VDH testing locator, local health department websites, or pharmacy websites to find available tests and appointments.

Vaccines are available at pharmacies, doctors’ offices and many other convenient locations. To find free vaccines at a Community Vaccination Center or another location near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages. At Community Vaccination Centers, appointments are encouraged to ensure you get the vaccine you want and to avoid extended wait times, but walk-ins are welcome.

Researchers around the world continue to study Omicron.  More data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants. Those who are unvaccinated remain at the highest risk of severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19. This population remains VDH’s top priority.  Everyone 5 years or older is eligible to be vaccinated.