Reported cases of the omicron variant have nearly all been mild so far, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The disease is mild,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky told the Associated Press in an interview, noting that the data on omicron is still limited.
According to Walensky, reported symptoms among the 40 people in the U.S. who have been infected with the new variant have mainly been a cough, congestion and fatigue. CDC officials have said that one person was hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.
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Of those infected with the omicron variant, more than three-quarters had been vaccinated, while a third had received a booster, according to Walensky. Some of those individuals became infected before their boosters had taken full effect about two weeks after receiving the shot, the AP noted.
“What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be,” Walensky said, referencing boosters becoming available to all adults. “We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance.”
Preliminary data out of South Africa has also shown that omicron cases are not leading to more severe illness. But even if omicron causes less severe disease, its transmissibility – or how easily it passes from person to person – could be problematic.
“Even if we have a large number of cases that are mild, some of those individuals will need hospitalizations,” Maria Van Kerkhove of the World Health Organization told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “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.”
The development comes after Pfizer on Wednesday reported that three doses of its coronavirus vaccine may offer significant protection against the omicron variant, while just two doses of the vaccine see a large drop in antibody levels against the strain.
But as the U.S. encourages booster shots as the best way to prepare for the new variant, the World Health Organization, which has called for a booster shot moratorium in order to increase vaccine access in low-income countries, stood by its stance that boosters will not be the way out of the pandemic.
“The boosters are, unfortunately, probably not the solution to this,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said, adding that the data from “country after country” shows that most people in intensive care units who are getting severely ill or dying are unvaccinated.