Michaeleen Doucleff

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Several nights ago, my husband texted me these questions while traveling:

Does my vaccine not work anymore?

Should I get a booster even though it's been only four months since my second shot?

"Excellent questions," I thought. One thing is crystal clear about the highly mutated omicron variant of the coronavirus: It has a huge ability to bypass immune protection and cause breakthrough infections.

Here's what you need to know about how well the vaccines are working in the face of the omicron variant and the best timing for getting your booster shot.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The new coronavirus variant, called omicron, was first identified in South Africa only about a month ago and is already spreading quickly in Europe and North America. It has an exceptionally high number of mutations, and those mutations appear to make it more transmissible than the delta variant.

Now scientists in South Africa have just released the first data looking at how well the vaccines will work against the omicron variant. And the news is mixed.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Each week, we answer frequently asked questions about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions." See an archive of our FAQs here.

Scientists have evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads explosively in white-tailed deer and that the virus is widespread in this deer population across the United States.

Researchers say the findings are quite concerning and could have vast implications for the long-term course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, first emerged, there have been several signs that white-tailed deer would be highly susceptible to the virus — and that many of these animals were catching it across the country.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Early in 2017, a team of medical personnel, including doctors, nurses and volunteers, returned home to Florida after volunteering at a clinic in Haiti. Soon after their return, 20 members of the team began to feel a bit under the weather.

"They had a slight fever and didn't feel 100% right," says virologist John Lednicky at the University of Florida. "But they weren't very sick."

Back in the 1980s, scientists in the U.K. performed an experiment that — at first glance — sounds unethical. "Volunteers came into the lab, and someone squirted virus up their nose," says computational biologist Jennie Lavine.

The researchers took a liquid packed with coronavirus particles and intentionally tried to make 15 volunteers sick.

Oh no. Not again.

Just when COVID surge in the U.S. has begun to decline, another coronavirus variant has immediately cropped up. This time in the U.K.

Known in the media as "delta-plus," this mutant is raising some concern because over the past few weeks, it's begun to spread in several parts of Britain. It now accounts for about 6% of all cases in the U.K.

Last week, a panel of scientists and doctors met to discuss the Pfizer booster vaccine. Specifically, the goal was to advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about who needs a third shot.

The agency ultimately recommended anyone age 65 and over should get one as well as people who live in long-term care facilities or people ages 50 to 64, who have underlying health conditions.

But several panelists felt there was a more urgent matter at hand than Pfizer boosters.

For the past several weeks, Dr. Boghuma Titanji has been swamped with questions about COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Even the experts seem confused, she says.

"I'm even getting questions from my colleagues, who are doctors, asking me, 'What should I do?' " says the infectious disease specialist at Emory University.

Some scientists have called it "superhuman immunity" or "bulletproof." But immunologist Shane Crotty prefers "hybrid immunity."

"Overall, hybrid immunity to SARS-CoV-2 appears to be impressively potent," Crotty wrote in commentary in Science back in June.

No matter what you call it, this type of immunity offers much-needed good news in what seems like an endless array of bad news regarding COVID-19.

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