Fauci says ommicron Covid variant has already been found in 20 countries, but not yet in the US – Community News
Covid-19

Fauci says ommicron Covid variant has already been found in 20 countries, but not yet in the US

In this photo illustration, a hand holding a medical syringe with words saying omicron covid-19 variant in the background.

Rafael Henrique | Light Rocket | Getty Images

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Tuesday that 226 cases of the highly mutated omicron Covid-19 variant have been detected in 20 countries so far, but US officials have not yet confirmed a case in the states.

The variant, which first appeared in South Africa about a week ago, has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein alone. That is the most important part of the virus that allows it to bind to human cells and infect the body. It also worries scientists that it could evade vaccine protection or be much more contagious than the already highly contagious delta variant that has sparked a surge in cases worldwide in recent months.

“This mutation profile is very different from other interesting and worrisome variants, and while some mutations are also found in delta, this is not delta,” Fauci told reporters at a Covid-19 White House task force briefing. “These mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion.”

There are several other mutations in the virus that scientists haven’t seen before that don’t know how they will change how the virus behaves or spreads, he said.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel warned Monday that omicron has already spread across the planet. He pointed to flights arriving in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday, with 61 of the 624 passengers testing positive for Covid. A total of 14 of them are infected with the ommicron strain, according to the Dutch health authorities.

Portuguese health authorities said on Monday that 13 members and staff of a professional football team in Lisbon were infected with the variant after one of the players returned from a trip to South Africa.

“We also think it’s already in place in most countries,” Bancel said in an interview on CNBC. “I believe that most countries that have operated direct flights from South Africa in the past seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of.”

U.S. officials are stepping up surveillance of international travelers at airports and making regular, even daily, phone calls to state and local health officials, lab directors, state epidemiologists and others, looking for omicron cases, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The nation has also ramped up genomic sequencing of Covid cases in recent months, taking about 80,000 samples per week, up from about 8,000 a week earlier this year, Walensky said at the briefing. The delta variant remains the predominant strain in the US, accounting for about 99.9% of all cases sequenced nationwide, she said.

“To be crystal clear, we have a lot more resources to fight the variant today than around this time last year,” Walensky said.

Fauci said it’s too early to say whether omicron will be more deadly or milder than the delta variant. He noted that reports of milder symptoms in South Africa were based on a small number of cases and occurred in younger and healthier patients who would typically have milder Covid problems. People in the US and Europe tend to be older and less healthy than the population of South Africa, Moderna’s Bancel said.

“It’s very difficult to know if this particular variant will result in serious disease,” Fauci said. “While some preliminary information from South Africa suggests no unusual symptoms are associated with the variant, we don’t know and it’s too early to say.”

The officials reiterated their push to increase the number of vaccinations, saying the best means of protecting yourself against the variant is to get vaccinated, get a boost and continue to wear masks and avoid crowds.

“How do we tackle omicron? We’ve said it time and time again, and it deserves repeating, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. Get a boost if you’re vaccinated. Continue to use the mitigation methods, which are masks that avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas,” Fauci said.

The CDC strengthened its recommendations on Covid boosters on Monday, saying everyone 18 and older should get one.

Walensky said the CDC’s definition of “fully vaccinated” hasn’t changed. It’s still two weeks after the second injection of Moderna or Pfizer’s vaccines or any of Johnson & Johnson’s. But she said the more the virus mutates, the greater the need to boost immunity. “As that science evolves, we’ll see if we need to update our definition of fully vaccinated,” she said.