Ever heard of chickenpox parties? These get-togethers occurred when one child came down with the illness and played with other kids whose parents wanted them to catch it and get it over with. These parties fell out of favor in 1995 when the varicella vaccine came out.
Since it seems like the omicron variant may cause the mildest form of COVID-19 so far, the idea behind chickenpox parties has resurfaced: Should I just catch the virus and be done with it? While it’s natural to want immunity and a return to normal life, Shalika Katugaha, MD, system medical director of Infectious Diseases at Baptist Health, cautioned against mingling with sick friends anytime soon.
“Children died when there were chickenpox parties. It’s never a good idea to catch a disease on purpose, for so many reasons,” she said.
COVID-19 isn’t one and done.
Unlike chickenpox, which usually happens once in a lifetime, COVID-19 can reinfect the same person after just a few months.
“People had chickenpox parties because they would have longer-term protection. If you get COVID-19, your immunity may last a few months, but there’s no guarantee. It’s not worth getting the virus for short-term protection,” Dr. Katugaha said.
Not everyone reacts to omicron the same way.
While your relative, coworker or neighbor may have had an easy time with this variant, there’s no guarantee your experience will be the same.
“You may become sicker than you want to,” Dr. Katugaha warned. “It’s not a mild disease for everyone. Even people who are vaccinated and boosted may have more symptoms than they expect. While omicron is generally less severe, it may not be for you.”
You could spread the virus to vulnerable people.
“While you may feel OK about contracting COVID-19, you may unknowingly pass it on to others,” Dr. Katugaha said. “You never know who you will expose when you become ill: older people, immunocompromised individuals or kids. There are many children under five who can't be vaccinated yet. According to the CDC, only around 54% of eligible children between 12 and 17 have been vaccinated, and only 23% of children 5 to 11.”
The long-term consequences are unknown.
After infection passes, some people are left with lingering symptoms, dubbed “long COVID-19.” According to the CDC, length of recovery varies widely, but some long-term effects include loss of taste or smell, fatigue and shortness of breath.
“Even people with mild infections can get long COVID-19,” said Dr. Katugaha.
There are better methods of protecting yourself.
Chickenpox parties weren’t a great idea to begin with, but they went fully out of fashion after a vaccine became available. COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be safe and effective at providing immunity.
“The best defense we have against this virus is a vaccine,” said Dr. Katugaha. “If you’re thinking of catching omicron, please consider getting your vaccine and booster instead.”
At Baptist Health, we want to help keep our community informed about COVID-19. For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit baptistjax.com/covid19vaccine. Click here to find a vaccination location near you.