How to Keep Your Kids and Family Safe From the Omicron COVID-19 Variant

dad helping child put on their mask

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As of December 2022, Omicron is the dominant COVID-19 variant circulating in the U.S. However, updated bivalent booster shots of the vaccine are authorized for everyone ages 6 months old and up; these boosters were developed specifically to help protect against the Omicron variant, as well as the original strain of the virus.

Key Takeaways

  • The Omicron variant is the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S.
  • Bivalent booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines help protect against Omicron, and are available to people 6 months old and up.
  • All of the tools we currently have to keep our kids safe are still effective against Omicron, including masking, vaccines, and testing.

If you are a parent following the news about the Omicron variant, it's likely you're feeling some uneasiness. You may be wondering what this news means for you, your children, and your family. You might have questions about whether Omicron will make your children more ill than other variants have, and whether the current vaccines approved for children will still work.

In the 12 months or so since the Omicron variant was first detected, scientists have learned that it spreads more easily than previous variants, such as Delta, and that its symptoms tend to be similar to previous variants. It causes less severe illness and death, and some antiviral treatments are effective. And vaccines help prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death.

Across the board, though, experts are urging everyone—including parents—not to worry too much. Although there are still many unknowns, we are in a much better place than we were when COVID-19 first emerged.

“There is no evidence to justify a panic,” says Robert Amler, MD, a former chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “The variant is being examined very thoroughly worldwide.”

We connected with several experts in the field to help parents understand what Omicron means for their families, and what the best ways are to keep their children safe.

What Is the Omicron Variant?

The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa on November 9, 2021 and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24, 2021. Two days later, the WHO designated Omicron as a “Variant of Concern.”

The reason for this designation was that the variant caused a swift uptake in infections in South Africa, indicating that it might be a highly transmissible variant.

Robert Amler, MD

There is no evidence to justify a panic.

— Robert Amler, MD

As of December 2022, the Omicron variant is dominant in the U.S., accounting for 99.9% of all cases. It is still considered a variant of concern, meaning that it has shown evidence of increased transmissibility and more severe disease. It also means that antibodies (from previous infection or from vaccines) are less able to fight it.

However, the updated bivalent booster shots were designed to help protect against the Omicron variant as well as the original strain of the virus. Both Pfizer and Moderna have developed bivalent boosters ("bivalent" means the booster protects against the original strain plus a variant).

How Does the Omicron Variant Differ From Other Variants?

So far, scientists are still gathering data about Omicron, so it’s not possible to say in a definitive way how Omicron will differ from other variants. However, one assumption that many experts are feeling confident in is that it will be quite contagious, maybe more so than other variants that have emerged.

The CDC reports that the Omicron variant is more contagious than the Delta variant.

“We can presume it is more infectious than the Delta variant because it appears to have crowded out the other variants in at least some settings,” he says. “We also can presume it is more prevalent than currently reported,” Dr. Amler said when Omicron first started to appear.

Symptoms of Omicron cases of COVID-19 are similar to previous variants, but severe illness and death are less common with Omicron.

How Does the Omicron Variant Affect Kids?

As a parent, probably the top question on your mind right now is how omicron might affect your child should they become infected with it. The delta variant caused a major spike in infections among children, including an increase in hospitalizations.

There has not been a lot of research on Omicron in children specifically, but one study of children did find that having a previous COVID-19 infection didn't offer much protection against Omicron, especially when compared to other variants.

"Omicron is very different from previous variants,” said researcher Adrienne Randolph, MD, in a statement. “It has many mutations on the spike protein, and we now know that this enables it to evade the antibody response.”

Is My Vaccinated Child Protected Against the Omicron Variant?

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children, many parents have been able to breathe a deep sigh of relief that our children are finally able to get some protection against COVID-19. As such, many of us have been wondering if the emergence of Omicron might somehow make these vaccines less protective in some way.

Zachary Hoy, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Nashville Pediatric Infectious Disease, says that it’s possible that the vaccines will take a hit when it comes to spreading infections.

“Omicron has alterations in spike protein,” says Dr. Hoy. “Vaccine-induced antibodies’ main target are spike proteins, so the vaccine may not be as effective for Omicron.” On December 8, 2021, Pfizer released preliminary laboratory data on how its vaccine performed against Omicron. The company found that neutralizing titers (concentrations of antibodies) were reduced against the Omicron variant vs. the original strain of COVID-19.

"Given the levels of neutralizing antibody against Omicron after two doses of vaccine, I would expect children/teens who can only get two doses of vaccination to still be protected against death, hospitalization, and severe disease," he says.

"Eighty percent of spike protein epitopes [molecules the antibodies attach to] were not affected by mutations in the omicron variant, so two doses of vaccine would still provide protection against more severe disease," Dr. Hoy says.

Bivalent Boosters Now Available for All

On August 31, 2022, the FDA authorized updated bivalent boosters for people age 12 and up. In October, this authorization was extended to include kids 5 and up.

In December 2022, kids between 6 months and 4 years old became eligible for bivalent boosters.

  • If your child completed the Moderna primary series (two shots) at least two months ago, they can get a Moderna bivalent booster.
  • If they are still in the process of getting their three Pfizer primary series shots, the third one will be a bivalent booster.
  • If they have completed the three-shot Pfizer series, they do not need a booster yet.

Should I Keep My Kid In School?

School-aged kids, and their parents, have had a rough few years. Schools shut down suddenly in the spring of 2020, and the next school year, many kids were in either hybrid or remote school. Now, fortunately, most schools are back in person. But with the emergence of Omicron, many parents are wondering if schools will continue to be safe—and if Omicron might mean more shutdowns in the future.

Thankfully, experts agree that if schools continue to take the precautions that many are taking—masking, distancing, and testing—schools should be able to remain a safe environment for our kids.

“Vaccination, mask-wearing, and rapid, frequent, proactive testing continue to be our best tools to fight Omicron and all other variants of SARS-CoV-2,” says Alicia Zhou, PhD, biologist and chief science officer at Color. She urges parents to get their kids vaccinated and boosted when eligible and to continue to be vigilant about mask-wearing in school. Proactive testing in school populations is also important.

These measures will not only keep your child safe from Omicron—and all variants—but also decrease the chances of outbreaks and shutdowns occurring in schools, Dr. Zhou explains.

What Can I Do to Protect My Family Against the Omicron Variant?

Amy Verlsteffen, APRN, senior director of clinical transformation at TytoCare, is not only a pediatric nurse practitioner but also a mother of five. She shared with Verywell Family how she is keeping her family safe amid the news of Omicron. In a nutshell, she is planning on continuing to do what she’s been doing all along—following recommendations from the CDC, and heeding advice from medical professionals.

Alicia Zhou, PhD

Vaccination, mask-wearing, and rapid, frequent, proactive testing continue to be our best tools to fight Omicron and all other variants of SARS-CoV-2.

— Alicia Zhou, PhD

“My children are vaccinated, we practice social distancing, we avoid large crowds, and we wash our hands frequently,” Verlsteffen. “I am no more ‘worried’ about this variant than I was about [the original strain of] COVID-19 or the Delta variant,” she said.

In addition to the measures Verlsteffen is taking to keep her family safe, Dr. Zhou emphasizes that it’s important for every member of your family to be vaccinated, and boosted, if eligible. Masking is important, but you also want to ensure that your child is wearing a mask that fits well and that has a good seal. Parents might consider upgrading to KN95 or N95 masks, she says.

Finally, it’s important to get yourself tested frequently, Dr. Zhou advises, and to certainly get tested if your child or anyone in your family is showing signs of COVID-19.  

What This Means For You

It’s completely understandable if the news of the Omicron variant has got you a little on edge. Many parents are feeling this way; you are far from alone. It’s important to keep in mind that we have many effective tools to keep ourselves safe.

All experts recommend that we continue to mask up, get vaccinated and boosted when eligible, and continue to get tested when we show signs of COVID-19. If you have any other concerns about Omicron and your own child’s health, their pediatrician is a great resource. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them at this time.

14 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.