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'Don't wait': Doctors urge people to get COVID vaccine booster shot ASAP as omicron variant spreads

Despite concerns and questions about lessened vaccine efficacy on the omicron variant, experts say a booster shot is still the best way to protect yourself.

HOUSTON — Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel raised eyebrows and concerns Tuesday when he told reporters it's likely the COVID-19 vaccine will be far less effective against the omicron variant.

But doctors said that doesn't mean you should wait to get your booster.

While the world waits to learn more about the omicron variant, the city of Houston is already working to find out if it's already here.

"We know it's coming and now we have this great surveillance system and we hope we can limit any spread if and when it comes," said Dr. Loren Hopkins, Chief Environmental Science Officer with the Houston Health Department.

They're looking for omicron in the wastewater. Last week's testing only found the delta variant. They collected new samples Tuesday morning.

RELATED: Omicron not yet found in Houston wastewater

"We're sampling at the airport and across the city, and as it comes in, we can use a targeted approach to try and contain it," Hopkins said.

Doctors and researchers at Baylor College of Medicine said chances are high that it's already here.

"It's likely we will see it soon," said Dr. Jennifer Whitaker, assistant professor of Medicine and of Molecular Virology and Microbiology. "This particular variant has a lot more mutations than other variants."

Whitaker said that's fueling concerns the vaccines may be less effective with omicron, but that's no reason to wait.

"Even if there's not perfect protection, I think the vaccines are still likely to provide some degree of protection," Whitaker said. "People should definitely get vaccinated and get a booster if they're eligible. They shouldn't wait for a new vaccine at this point in time."

While the world waits for more data, Whitaker and her colleagues are working on a booster vaccine trial in Houston specifically aimed at developing a booster shot better able to protect against new emerging COVID-19 variants. Researchers are specifically looking for folks 60 years and older who have yet to receive their COVID booster.

If you're interested in participating or would like more information you can call 713-798-4912 or email them at COVID-vax@bcm.edu.