Fauci says early data on the Omicron variant is 'encouraging' but we don't yet truly know how deadly it is




  • In Science
  • 2021-12-06 12:09:58Z
  • By Business Insider
Dr. Anthony Fauci.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool
Dr. Anthony Fauci.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool  
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that South Africa's initial data on Omicron is "a bit encouraging."

  • However, the top US medical doctor said it's too early to determine if the new variant is less deadly than Delta.

  • Boosters were "critical" for the US to handle both variants, Fauci said.

Early data from South Africa on the new Omicron coronavirus variant is "encouraging," Dr. Anthony Fauci has said.

However, it's too early to tell if Omicron causes only mild infection, Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical advisor, told CNN's State of the Nation Sunday.

Fauci said that "thus far" there didn't seem to be a "great degree of severity" to the Omicron variant, which has a high number of mutations in the part of the virus that attaches to human cells.

"But we really got to be careful before we make any determinations whether it's less severe" than Delta, Fauci said. The highly infectious Delta variant, which itself has mutations that help it avoid the immune response, is the most common variant in the US.

"Thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging" regarding Omicron's severity, Fauci said, adding that Omicron was "clearly" becoming the most common variant in South Africa - the country that sounded the alarm fewer than two weeks ago, and where Omicron is fast spreading.

The average number of new daily COVID-19 cases per million in South Africa has increased more than 17 fold from November 22, to 167 on Sunday, Oxford University's Our World in Data shows.

As of Saturday there were 3,255 South Africans admitted to hospital with COVID-19, according to official figures. There were 16,366 new COVID-19 cases that day, the data showed.

Experts worldwide are still racing to determine if Omicron's unusual mutations make the virus more deadly or infectious than Delta, and whether it can evade vaccines.

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead at the World Health Organization and US infectious disease doctor, told Face the Nation Sunday that initial reports suggested the Omicron variant caused more "mild" disease than Delta, but it was too early to say because it can takes weeks for people to go through the full course of their infection.

Kerkhove cautioned that even if COVID-19 caused by Omicron was mild, it was important to "act fast now" and take measures to control its spread. "More cases can mean more hospitalizations. More hospitalization can mean more death. We don't want to see that happening on top of an already different situation with Delta circulating globally," she said.

Fauci said that 99.9% of new COVID-19 cases in the US were caused by Delta. Fifteen US states have detected Omicron, he said.

Boosters are going to be "really critical" in whether the US can handle both variants, Fauci said. About 23% of fully vaccinated Americans have had a booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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