Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, April 13, 2021.
Leigh Vogel | UPI | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Early studies suggest that the Omicron variant, while highly transmissible, causes fewer serious illnesses than the deadly Delta strain of the coronavirus, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday.
“All evidence suggests Omicron is less severe than Delta,” said Fauci, chief health advisor to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a White House press briefing on Covid.
“The data are encouraging, but preliminary in many ways,” said Fauci.
But “we shouldn’t get complacent,” he said, because the “extremely high incidence” of Omicron cases could still overwhelm some health systems, even if the new variant causes fewer hospital stays on average.
“The risk of serious illness from any circulating variant, including Omicron, is much, much higher for those who have not been vaccinated,” added Fauci. “And so, adults and children who are eligible will be vaccinated, and vaccinated people will be upgraded if they are eligible.”
Fauci’s analysis came when Covid cases fueled by the rapid spread of Omicron hit record highs in many countries, including the United States. However, hospital stays usually delay new infections by several days.
Fauci said, “the pattern and discrepancy between cases and hospitalizations strongly suggest that the hospital-to-case ratio will be lower as the situation clears up.”
More children are being infected with Omicron, Fauci said. However, he noted that “many children are hospitalized with Covid, as opposed to Covid,” adding that a final decision has not yet been made on the severity of the variant in children.
The Omicron variant also shows “some degree of immune evasion” from antibodies, including those induced by currently available vaccines, Fauci said. But booster shots “bring that level of protection back to a level that approximates what it was before,” he said.
“Boosters are therefore crucial to optimally shape our approach for Omicron,” said Fauci.
He then highlighted some recent data collected from South Africa, the UK and the US, all of which suggest a lower risk of hospitalization or death from Omicron compared to other waves of Covid.
The South African study also showed fewer intensive care unit admissions, fewer patients in need of supplemental oxygen, and shorter hospital stays for Omicron cases compared to infections from previous waves of the virus, Fauci said.
Meanwhile, a study by the UK Health Security Agency showed that the risk of hospitalization for omicron infection is about 40% of the risk of the Delta variant, Fauci noted.
Data from another study from Imperial College London “shows an overall significant reduction in hospitalization risk for Omicron compared to Delta,” said Fauci.