Omicron coronavirus variant puts world on edge


It’s too soon to know if the Omicron variant of coronavirus causes less severe disease than the Delta variant – in spite of reports that many cases so far have been mild, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

Most cases of Covid-19 overall are mild, and especially among younger patients. But nonetheless the virus can and does cause severe disease as it spreads among populations and has killed 5.2 million people globally and more than 779,000 in the US alone, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that some South African physicians have reported the patients they treated had mild disease. But they were treating young people, Fauci said.

“We believe that it is too soon to tell of what the level of severity is,” Fauci told a White House Covid-19 briefing.

“Dr. Walensky and I specifically asked our South African colleagues that on the most recent Zoom call that we had, and they agreed with us that it’s too early to tell. They’re hoping that it is going to, across the board, give a lower level of severity, but they don’t know that right now,” he added.

In the meantime, vaccination and boosters should protect people, Fauci said. Boosters, especially, can bring antibody levels up to where there is a cushion of extra protection that can cover even variants of the virus.

“And that’s usually most manifested in protection against severe disease that leads to hospitalization,” Fauci said.

“So when we say that although these mutations suggest a diminution of protection and a degree of immune evasion, still from the experience that we have with Delta (you) can make a reasonable conclusion that you would not eliminate all protection against this particular variant,” he said.

“And that’s the reason why we don’t know what that degree of diminution of protection is going to be. But we know that when you boost somebody, you elevate your level of protection very high. And we are hoping, and I think with good reason, to feel good that there will be some degree of protection. Therefore, as we said, if you’re unvaccinated get vaccinated, and if you’re vaccinated, get boosted,” he added.

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