Explainer: What is the Omicron variant? 

(Tiếng Việt)

The Omicron variant is the latest COVID-19 variant that is extremely contagious and can cause serious illness, hospitalization, or even death. 

Omicron was first detected in the United States on Dec. 1, 2021, after first being identified in South Africa. It is now the dominant variant of COVID-19 in the United States. Omicron is more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus and the Delta variant. Anyone with Omicron can spread it to both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. 

In order to prevent Omicron from spreading, the White House has created a website where any American can order a COVID-19 test. Visit COVIDTests.gov.

What is a variant?

As a virus infects more and more people, the virus will naturally change, which then leads to a variant. When a virus enters the body, it makes copies of itself. But its replication process can sometimes make a mistake in the copy, which creates a mutation in the virus. This mutated version of the original virus is called a variant. The variant can then spread and infect more people.

Delta and Omicron are mutated versions of the original COVID-19 virus, and both are more contagious than the original COVID-19 virus. Because of Omicron, on Dec. 29, 2021, the U.S. broke its single-day coronavirus cases, with 488,000 new cases of COVID-19 in a single day.

If you are vaccinated, can you become infected with Omicron?

Yes. But current data shows that those who are vaccinated experience less severe illness than those who are unvaccinated. Medical experts say that symptoms of Omicron among people who have been vaccinated resemble a cold.

For vaccinated individuals who test positive for the Omicron variant, the predominant symptoms of Omicron are a cough, congestion, runny nose, and fatigue, which is similar to a cold

“They may only feel like they have a cold,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, who works for the Chicago Department of Public Health, to NBC News. “That’s good because they’re not getting seriously sick, they’re not threatening the healthcare system.” 

For people who have been vaccinated, but have not received a booster shot, the Omicron symptoms include more coughing, more fever, and more fatigue, according to Dr. Craig Spencer, who works at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Loss of smell or taste, which are common symptoms of the original COVID-19 virus and the Delta variant, have not been commonly reported among vaccinated people.

However, among unvaccinated people, Omicron has led to hospitalizations. The current surge in hospitalizations is driven largely by unvaccinated individuals. In January 2022, over 132,000 people were hospitalized for COVID, the largest number since January 2021. 

How to protect yourself against Omicron

The best way to protect yourself against Omicron is to get vaccinated, and to get a COVID-19 booster. A new study, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the people who got a COVID-19 booster shot were less likely to be infected by Omicron. And if people who got the booster shot were infected with Omicron, the booster shot was 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations from COVID-19.

You can get a booster shot 5 months after getting the two-shot Pfizer vaccine or the two-shot Moderna vaccine, and 2 months after one dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. Vaccines are widely available to everyone age 5 and up. Boosters are available for adults 18 and up, except for the Pfizer booster. The Pfizer booster is available to teenagers 12 and up. To find out where you can be vaccinated or get your booster shot, visit VietCovid.org

Continue to wear a mask in public, ideally a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask. Wearing a mask prevents you from spreading COVID-19, if you have it, or becoming infected with COVID-19. You can also wear cloth masks, but they are not as effective at preventing COVID-19 infections, according to the CDC.

What happens if you get Omicron?

If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or feel like you are currently infected with COVID-19, it is recommended that you get tested and then quarantine. If you do test positive for COVID-19 and you are vaccinated, isolate yourself immediately, even if you don’t have symptoms, for at least 5 days. After 5 days, if you do not have a fever and your symptoms are improving, the CDC says you can interact with others again, but they recommend you wear a mask in public and at work for an additional 5 days. If your symptoms persist or do not improve, consult with your health care provider. 

If you are not able to get tested but have symptoms of COVID-19, which can resemble a cold or a flu, it is still recommended that you isolate. Additionally, notify anyone with whom you’ve spent time with, going back at least 2 days before you started having symptoms.  

Dr. Allison Arwady, who works at the Chicago Department of Health, told NBC News: “If you are sick, even a little bit sick, stay home … Sick, even a little bit sick, until proven otherwise with a test — that’s COVID. That’s how we treat it, that’s how you should treat it.”

In order to prevent Omicron from spreading, the White House has created a website where any American can order a COVID-19 test for free. Visit COVIDTests.gov.

To make an appointment to get your vaccine, visit

Viet Fact Check has partnered with a number of community and health organizations to educate the Vietnamese-American community on the COVID-19 vaccine. The project is supported by: Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT), Asian Health Services (AHS), the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Union of North American Vietnamese American Students (UNAVSA), Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Asian American Research Center on Health (ARCH) and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO).

A partnership with We Can Do This, a COVID-19 public education campaign from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services