The Atlantic Daily: What Makes Omicron Dangerous

Even if Omicron causes milder disease—and that’s still an if—the new variant could have wide-ranging consequences, Ed Yong warns. Plus: This evening, explore some extraordinary animal photography.

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The United States is—once again—unprepared to protect itself against the coronavirus, my colleague Ed Yong warns in a sweeping new feature on Omicron and the future of the pandemic. “The variant’s threat,” Ed writes, “is far greater at the societal level than at the personal one.”

To better understand what he means by that, read the new report. We’ve also summarized three takeaways from his reporting below.

1. For individuals, Omicron is a setback, not a return to square one.

If you’re vaccinated, Omicron effectively undoes some—but not all—of your immune defenses, leaving you more vulnerable to infection than you would have been two months ago. But even if Omicron “has an easier time infecting vaccinated individuals,” Ed writes, “it should still have more trouble causing severe disease.”

2. But the picture is much bleaker for society at large.

Even if the new variant ends up causing milder disease (and at this point, the jury is out on that), “greater transmissibility will likely trump that reduced virulence,” Ed explains. “Omicron is spreading so quickly that a small proportion of severe cases could still flood hospitals.”

3. America must better protect the vulnerable.

“Rather than trying to beat the coronavirus one booster at a time,” Ed argues, “the country needs to do what it has always needed to do—build systems and enact policies that protect the health of entire communities, especially the most vulnerable ones.”

Read his story.

A needle made out of chain links
(Getty / The Atlantic)

The rest of the news in three sentences:

(1) A CDC advisory panel recommended that people get mRNA shots over the Johnson & Johnson option. (2) The passage of President Joe Biden’s giant spending bill looks like it might get bumped to 2022. (3) Hundreds of thousands of people in the Midwest were left without power following major storms.

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Make some furry friends. Browse the People’s Choice nominees from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.

A break from the news:

Every night, sea creatures commute from the ocean’s deep to its surface. Scientists don’t know exactly why.