Dec. 7, 2021 -- Studies are underway in test tubes and animals to determine whether the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus can slip past the immune protection of vaccination or a previous infection.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the results from tests of disabled and live Omicron viruses mixed with the serum -- the clear part of the blood -- of vaccinated or previously infected people should be ready next week.
The results of those tests should give us a better idea about how well protected Americans may be against the new threat of this highly mutated variant.
Fauci, speaking at a briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team, says data shows the Omicron variant has swiftly become the main cause of new COVID-19 infections in South Africa.
“Strongly suggesting a dominant capability of that variant over others,” he said.
The situation in South Africa is not exactly the same as what’s happening in the U.S. South Africa has not been able to vaccinate as many people as the U.S. has. Even given these differences, Fauci says the picture in South Africa says a lot about Omicron’s runaway spread and its potential to cause new cases to spike in this country.
Those new cases may not be as serious as we’ve seen with Alpha or Delta. Early data on severity is encouraging.
“It’s too early to be able to determine the precise severity of disease … but it appears with the cases we are seeing, we are not seeing a very severe profile of disease,” he said.
Fauci said the hospitalization rate for omicron cases seems to be lower than it has been under previous variants, and patients who do end up in the hospital seem to be less likely to need oxygen.
But he cautioned that this data could be biased because the earliest cases in South Africa have been reported in younger people, who tend to have less serious cases anyway.
“Hopefully, in the next few weeks we’ll get a much clearly picture,” he said.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said teams working to track the spread of Omicron after the large Anime 2021 conference in New York City have been able to contact about 35,000 of the 53,000 people who were estimated to have attended.
“Data from this investigation will likely provide some of the earliest looks in this country of the transmissibility of this variant,” she said.
In the meantime, Omicron isn’t waiting. Sor far, it has shown up in 17 states and more than 50 countries around the world.