aljazeera.com
News|Coronavirus pandemic
‘Encouraging’ early feedback on Omicron severity: Dr Fauci
Early data from the new variant does not indicate a great degree of danger, says top US pandemic scientist.
A health worker draws a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe in Chicago, Illinois [File: Reuters]
5 Dec 2021
Early indications of the severity of the Omicron COVID-19 variant are “a bit encouraging” but more information is still needed, according to leading US pandemic adviser Dr Anthony Fauci.
Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest hospitalisation rates have not increased alarmingly.
“Though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said.
“Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging. But we have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe, or it really doesn’t cause any severe illness, comparable to Delta.”
Medical experts have in recent days underscored that the South African population skews young and more severe cases could emerge in the coming weeks.
Lab tests are under way to determine whether Omicron – a heavily mutated strain of the virus – is more transmissible than other strains, resistant to immunity from vaccination, and if infection is more severe, with results expected within weeks.
Omicron in 30 percent of US states
Meanwhile, US health officials said the variant has spread to about one-third of US states, but the Delta version makes up more than 99 percent of cases and is driving a surge in hospitalisations.
At least 15 US states have reported Omicron cases: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a tally by the Reuters news agency.
Many of the cases were among fully vaccinated individuals with mild symptoms, although the booster shot status of some patients was not known.
“I think that there’s a real risk that we’re going to see a decrease in effectiveness of the vaccines,” Stephen Hoge, president of vaccine producer Moderna, told ABC News.
“What I don’t know is how substantial that is,” Hoge added. “Is it going to be the kind of thing that we saw with the Delta variant, which is, ultimately vaccines were still effective, or are we going to see something like a 50 percent decrease in efficacy, which would mean we need to reboot the vaccines.”
Moderna, like other pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, has already started work to adapt their vaccines if necessary.
Cases of the Omicron variant have so far been confirmed in some 40 countries.
Even if Omicron proves less dangerous than Delta, it remains problematic, World Health Organization epidemiologist Dr Maria Van Kerkhove told CBS’ Face The Nation.
“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalisations,” she said. “They will need to go into ICU and some people will die… We don’t want to see that happen on top of an already difficult situation with Delta circulating globally.”
Tweaking vaccines
COVID-19 vaccine makers are looking to quickly tweak their shots to target Omicron and US regulators have promised speedy reviews, but that could still take months.
Moderna Inc has said it could seek US approval for an updated vaccine as soon as March, but company officials in television interviews on Sunday said it will still take time to increase output.
US government officials have also been working with vaccine makers Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson on updated shots.
The United States last week imposed a travel ban on South Africa and seven other southern African countries to stem the variant’s spread.
Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said he also hoped the United States would lift its ban on travelers from southern African countries in a “reasonable period of time”.
The South African government has complained it is being punished – instead of applauded – for discovering the new variant and quickly informing international health officials.
Fauci praised South Africa for its transparency and said the US travel ban was imposed at a time “when we were really in the dark” and needed time to study the variant.
SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES
RELATED
From: The Listening Post
Omi­cron cov­er­age in over­drive
The new coro­n­avirus vari­ant has dri­ven fren­zied me­dia cov­er­age, but how much is ac­cu­rate? And the rise of K-dra­ma.
26:00
4 Dec 2021
WHO says Omi­cron in 38 coun­tries, no deaths re­port­ed
WHO spokesper­son says vac­cine mak­ers ‘com­mend­able’ for plan­ning to ad­just COVID-19 jabs to pro­tect against Omi­cron.
3 Dec 2021
WHO chief sci­en­tist urges peo­ple not to pan­ic over Omi­cron
No ev­i­dence yet to sup­port a change in vac­cines as they are ‘high­ly ef­fec­tive’, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion says.
3 Dec 2021
Omi­cron like­ly less se­vere due to vac­cine, pri­or in­fec­tion: In­dia
Health min­istry says sever­i­ty of new strain could be low due to vac­ci­na­tion and wide­spread ex­po­sure to Delta vari­ant.
3 Dec 2021
MORE FROM NEWS
Oil giants Total, Chevron exit Myanmar due to human rights abuses
Ukraine says Russia recruiting mercenaries, sending arms to east
US Navy oil tanks dirty Hawaii’s water
AFCON: Low turnout, high interest and COVID checks
MOST READ
Russia, US voice hope for diplomacy over Ukraine
As costs mount, how long can China stick with ‘zero COVID’?
Baby among four found dead along US-Canada border
What next for Iran and Russia ties after Raisi-Putin meeting?
Follow Al Jazeera English:
© 2022 Al Jazeera Media Network
You rely on Al Jazeera for truth and transparency
We understand that your online privacy is very important and consenting to our collection of some personal information takes great trust. We ask for this consent because it allows Al Jazeera to provide an experience that truly gives a voice to the voiceless. You have the option to decline the cookies we automatically place on your browser but allowing Al Jazeera and our trusted partners to use cookies or similar technologies helps us improve our content and offerings to you. You can change your privacy preferences at any time by selecting ‘Cookie preferences’ at the bottom of your screen.To learn more, please view our Cookie Policy.