According to a meme of actor Will Smith, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is easy to treat with common cold medicine.
Several Facebook users, including conservative politician Kimberly Klacik, shared a two-part image listing the “top five” omicron symptoms, which it says are runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing and sore throat. At the bottom of the picture is an image of Smith, pointing to a bottle of NyQuil, which lists those very symptoms.
“Will Smith has the prescription,” Klacik wrote.
“So… NyQuil was always the cure?” a commenter wrote on a similar post. “Better than the (vaccine emoji).”
These posts dismiss the omicron variant of COVID-19 as nothing more than the common cold or flu. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
No doubt, many people who have or have had COVID-19 had minor symptoms like the ones in the image — especially if they were vaccinated. But medical experts told PolitiFact that this claim doesn’t take into account the full picture of how COVID-19 operates, and there is no guarantee that every infection will be as mild as the common cold.
NyQuil as a treatment option
The omicron symptoms listed in the post are similar to the top five symptoms reported by COVID-positive Londoners in the ZOE COVID Study. English researchers noted that symptoms reported during the omicron outbreak matched those of the earlier delta outbreak.
Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, emergency room physician and former Obama administration appointee to the National Biodefense Science Board, said that NyQuil can offer relief from symptoms that come with COVID-19 as the body’s immune system fights off the illness. But the medicine definitely isn’t a replacement for vaccines, he said.
“It’s still a coronavirus, and (omicron is) a variant of this COVID. And we don’t know the long-term consequences of these things, right? We want to avoid or at least reduce the likelihood that one could get severely sick, or be hospitalized. So vaccines will always still be the number one best choice,” said Fagbuyi.
Fagbuyi said that while the omicron variant seems to be milder with cold-like symptoms than the more severe delta variant, a person can’t pick which variant they would rather have.
Symptoms of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people are generally milder than symptoms in unvaccinated people, and some people may not experience any symptoms, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
While it may relieve some symptoms, NyQuil does not reduce contagiousness, nor shorten the course of illness. And it should be taken at the recommended dose.
“NyQuil contains acetaminophen, which at high doses is highly toxic to the liver. Furthermore, you need to be careful if you are taking more than one product,” said Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, M.D., chair of the epidemiology department at Florida International University.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins University, said NyQuil “will not be of assistance to people with more severe infections from COVID, with symptoms like pneumonia.”
Older patients and people with more severe symptoms need to seek medical attention, said Sharfstein, and they may require antiviral medications, monoclonal antibodies, oxygen, and other possible therapies.
Not the common cold
There is a broader issue with the meme’s implication that omicron is no bigger deal than the common cold or flu. That belies the strain of COVID-19 on the health care system and that cases of COVID-19 are less predictable than common colds.
In addition to the top symptoms mentioned in the meme, NPR reported that omicron can also cause a myriad of other symptoms, like nausea, night sweats and lower back pain. Other symptoms of COVID-19 include loss of taste and smell, and there is a small possibility for long-term effects, called “long COVID.”
The World Health Organization urged caution: Just because omicron appears to have milder symptoms than delta, an infection can still carry high risk. “While omicron does appear to be less severe compared to delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as mild,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Jan. 6. “Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people, and it’s killing people.”
And while the hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients have stayed about the same since the outbreak started, thousands of people with the disease continue to require care. COVID-19 patients were using 21,620 ICU beds, one-third of total beds in use, according to data from the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.
Compared with the number of COVID-19 deaths, the CDC estimates that between Oct. 1, 2021 to Jan. 1, 2022, there were between 730-2,200 deaths from the flu.
Vaccinated people can catch breakthrough cases of COVID, and experts said that there is some risk of vaccinated people spreading it. However, unvaccinated people are the most impacted by hospitalizations and deaths.
“The big picture is understanding that this still is COVID, and the full story hasn’t been told yet. This is just another piece of the puzzle,” said Fagbuyi.
• • •
How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.
• • •
How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
• • •
More coronavirus coverage
KIDS AND VACCINES: Got questions about vaccinating your kid? Here are some answers.
BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.
BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here’s the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.
GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.
We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.