Vaccines currently available sufficient to fight omicron
As the omicron COVID variant spreads across the U.S. on top of an ongoing delta variant surge, threatening to overwhelm hospitals, there is some good news.
“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” chief White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci said during a COVID update on Wednesday. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”
A two-dose regimen of the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine only provides 33% protection against infection with omicron, compared to 80% before. That protection against infection increases to 75% with a booster shot. With or without a booster, the Pfizer vaccine still provides very good protection against severe disease that would cause hospitalization or death, Fauci said.
That we already have the tools to fight the omicron variant is very welcome news given that each new variant of concern brings fears that it will be different enough from previous versions to completely evade vaccine efficacy and necessitate its own specific vaccine.
Pfizer has been hard at work developing variant-specific vaccines, but if they become necessary, they would be weeks to months behind the spread of a new variant, meaning severe illness and death could approach rates not seen since vaccines became widely available.
“If we didn’t have these tools, I’d be telling you to be really, really worried,” Fauci said Wednesday.
Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, waved off the notion of school or business closures because of omicron.
“We know how to keep our kids in schools and our businesses open. And we’re not going to shut down,” Zients said, encouraging anyone who is unvaccinated to get inoculated, and for anyone eligible to get a booster.
Hospitals are already full in several states, and health officials urge anyone traveling for the holidays to test beforehand. Indoor mask-wearing, once again mandated in California until Jan. 15, is also encouraged.
“The message remains clear: If you are unvaccinated get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of omicron if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot,” Fauci said.