Many Americans are contracting Omicron on purpose, in the belief that it will help prevent future infections. That's an extremely misguided view says Dr Quinton Fivelman, especially given the potential of a lifelong COVID-19 jab to avoid further-top up vaccinations.

It seems like the most unnecessary sentence I have ever had to write, but here it goes: you shouldn't deliberately catch COVID-19.

Over 5.6 million people have died from the virus worldwide and, in the UK, we've endured two years of lockdowns, social distancing and general mayhem in an attempt to avoid catching and spreading the disease.

Yet across the pond, intentionally catching the highly contagious Omicron variant is a trend that is currently spreading like wildfire, in order to, supposedly, 'get it over with' and boost immunity. You might think it goes without saying, but evidently it doesn't; deliberately catching COVID-19 is extremely misguided.

I devoutly hope that Brits do not copy this latest American trend. It's true that, among people who have had a third booster jab, Omicron seems to have milder symptoms for some people, but that's no reason to deliberately become infected with the virus. Seeking to catch COVID is like meddling with dynamite.

It's not only unvaccinated Americans who are playing with fire, some vaccinated individuals are also seeking to catch Omicron to avoid further boosters or the danger of having to isolate at an inconvenient time.

You may think I am just talking about a very small number of people with extreme views, but that's not the case. Have a look at TikTok, where recent videos show people deliberately trying to catch Omicron at parties and clubs now, so they don't miss out on weddings and birthdays by having to isolate later.

They are gambling that their previous jabs or infections will give them only a mild Omicron infection and will help build up their immunity. True, research in South Africa does indicate that the immune response of people infected with Omicron appears to increase protection against Delta more than fourfold, but that absolutely does not mean you should seek it out.

There are several urban myths that have developed around Omicron that need to be stamped out before they gain currency on this side of the Atlantic.

Omicron is far, far more dangerous than a bad cold. It's true that, for many people, it does share similar initial symptoms, such as runny nose, fever, sore throat and body aches, and a few lucky people will remain entirely asymptomatic. However, for many other people, it can rapidly escalate into a life-threatening disease, particularly for people with pre-existing conditions.

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The tragic case of the well-known Czech folk singer, Hana Horka, who died last week, highlights the danger of intentionally catching the virus. Her son says Hana, who was unvaccinated, purposefully caught COVID-19 from her family members in order to qualify for a recovery pass to access music venues.

Catching Omicron can also lead to long COVID, with ongoing problems such as fatigue and lack of breath that may last many months, or even years if organs such as the heart and lungs are damaged.

A look at the basic numbers reveals why we really shouldn't be taking healthcare advice from these particular Americans right now. As I write this, in the second half of January, US deaths are averaging 1,950 a day, and 152,555 people a day are being hospitalised. Does that seem to be a sensible time for them to seek out this disease?

Here in the UK, now is certainly not the time to follow this new trend. Not only could you become very ill, but you could also transmit the symptoms to other people, leading to higher infection rates and causing an even larger strain on hospitals. Currently 1 in 20 have the disease, 330 people a day are dying of COVID and around 1,900 new COVID patients are being admitted to hospital daily.

With health services traditionally stretched at this time of year, even before the arrival of COVID-19, it's really not sensible to do anything deliberately that might put further strain on the NHS.

A lifetime COVID-19 jab?

Just in case you are still tempted to pile into a nightclub or hang around a hospital to avoid having endless further vaccinations, there may be some good news on the way. Scientist are working on a lifetime COVID-19 jab. Unlike the vaccines for diseases such as chickenpox and measles, current COVID vaccinations last months rather than years or decades.

The heart of longer-term treatments is likely to be "viral vector" vaccines that use a modified version of a different virus (a vector virus) to deliver important instructions to our cells.

Michinori Kohara, emeritus investigator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science, in cooperation with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, has started developing a "lifelong" jab for COVID-19 based on research he had done for smallpox, which is, so far, the only infectious disease to be entirely eliminated by a vaccine.

He has tweaked the vaccinia virus, used in the smallpox vaccine, to contain the spike protein of the COVID-19 virus. It is thought that this will give an extremely effective and safe viral vector for delivering the spike gene which produces the spikes on the outside of the virus. If the research proves effective, it could produce neutralising antibodies within a week of inoculation and create the strongest cellular immunity of any vaccine. That could offer long-term protection.

Such a vaccination could be a while off yet. However, it surely sounds like a better solution that exposing yourself to a potentially lethal virus. Surely?

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