Fauci: 'Omicron Is Going to Be a Challenge'; Vaccines 'Don't Do Very Well Against Infection Itself'

By Susan Jones | December 14, 2021 | 10:24am EST
The Pfizer vaccine is administered at a pop-up clinic in Rosemead, California on November 29, 2021. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
The Pfizer vaccine is administered at a pop-up clinic in Rosemead, California on November 29, 2021. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - "For sure," the omicron variant "is going to be dominant in the United States," given its high transmissibility, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Tuesday morning.

Even vaccinated people need to be concerned, he said:

What happens is that if you get two doses of a Pfizer or a Moderna, the protection against infection itself is dramatically down.

However, what is the somewhat encouraging news is that the protection against hospitalization and severe disease, although it goes down to around 70 percent from around 93 percent, when you get boosted, it brings it back up to the level of pretty good protection, which is a very strong argument for people getting their boosters.

So omicron is going to be a challenge because it spreads very rapidly, and the vaccines that we use, the regular two-dose mRNA, don't do very well against infection itself. But particularly if you get the boost, it is pretty good.

Fauci said a booster shot provides "optimal protection" against the omicron variant. "So there's little doubt about that among those of us who work in this field."

But Fauci hesitated about changing the definition of "fully vaccinated" to three shots instead of the current two-shot regimen: "There is a difference, it is a subtle difference, between requirement and optimal. I can tell any organization that asks me what is the optimal to protect ourselves? ...There is no doubt that the optimal protection is going to be with three doses of an mRNA."

Rapid spread

In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, hundreds of people are lining up for booster shots, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament on Monday that "boosters are the key" to getting ahead of the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

Since last week, we’ve learned two things about this variant," Javid said.

The first is that no variant of COVID-19 has spread this fast. There are now 4,713 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, and the UK Health Security Agency estimates that the current number of daily infections are around 200,000.

While Omicron represents over 20 percent of cases in England, we’ve already seen it rise to over 44 percent in London and we expect it to become the dominant COVID-19 variant in the capital in the next 48 hours.

There are currently 10 confirmed people in England who have been hospitalised with Omicron. It’s vital we remember that hospitalisations and deaths lag infections by around two weeks. So we can expect those numbers to dramatically increase in the days and weeks that lie ahead.

 People wait in long lines for booster shots in London, as government officials warn about a "tidal wave" of COVID cases. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
People wait in long lines for booster shots in London, as government officials warn about a "tidal wave" of COVID cases. (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Javid said the second thing he's learned "is that two jabs are not enough to prevent symptomatic infection from Omicron. But a third dose – a booster dose – provides strong protection with analysis by the UK Health Security Agency showing a third dose is 70 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection and we expect the booster to take effect more quickly than the second dose."

'Tidal wave coming'

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation, telling his fellow subjects, "I am afraid we are now facing an emergency in our battle with the new variant, Omicron, and we must urgently reinforce our wall of vaccine protection to keep our friends and loved ones safe."

Johnson said Omicron is doubling in the U.K. every two to three days: "We know from bitter experience how these exponential curves develop. No one should be in any doubt: there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming."

He urged everyone who is eligible to get a booster shot.

"Do not make the mistake of thinking Omicron can’t hurt you; can’t make you and your loved ones seriously ill," the prime minister warned.

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