Dr. Fauci Just Gave a Rare Positive Update on Omicron
The infectious disease expert said this variant news was "encouraging."
In less than two weeks, a new variant of COVID has spread to more than 40 countries, including the U.S. Omicron has already been detected in at least 17 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This fast spread has virus experts concerned, especially given the staggering number of mutations the Omicron variant has on its spike protein, which could mean that it's more infectious and more capable of bypassing existing vaccine protection than Delta has been. Despite these valid concerns, however, there may be some positive news about the variant.
In a Dec. 5 interview on CNN's State of the Union, White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, discussed the Omicron variant and gave insight into the data health officials are now seeing. According to the infectious disease expert, U.S. officials are in "constant communication" with those in South Africa, where the new variant has caused a severe spike in cases. While case numbers are growing at a worrying rate, recent reports from South Africa have also been "a bit encouraging" regarding the severity of Omicron, Fauci said.
"It does not look like there's a great degree of severity to it," he told CNN's Jake Tapper.
Several doctors in South Africa have said that they are seeing primarily mild disease in the Omicron cases they are treating. Both Mvuyisi Mzukwa, a South African doctor and the vice chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), and Angelique Coetzee, chair of SAMA, told multiple news outlets that they had seen mild symptoms with this latest iteration of COVID.
"We're seeing younger patients and we're seeing milder cases of Omicron," Mzukwa said during a Dec. 1 interview on CNN's New Day. He added that doctors in the country "have not seen that much of hospitalization—all we see is that those patients that do get admitted are patients who are not vaccinated."
On Dec. 2, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also reported mostly mild cases of the variant. According to the agency's report, all of the 70 confirmed Omicron cases by European Union and European Economic Area countries at the time of the report were either asymptomatic or mild. "To date, there have been no severe cases and no deaths reported among these cases," the ECDC stated.
So far, the CDC has reported similar data, especially when it comes to fully vaccinated people. "What we can say, based on what these cases are showing, some have mild disease, some may have more severe disease, many of them are vaccinated, and what we're seeing now is that many of the people with mild disease were the vaccinated people," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said in a Dec. 3 interview on ABC's Good Morning America.
At the same time, Fauci said that it too soon to confirm that this new version of the virus will produce mild infections. The infectious disease expert previously said that it would take anywhere from two to four weeks to gather enough data to make definitive deliberations on the Omicron variant after it was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 24.
"It's too early to really make any definitive statements about it," Fauci told Tapper. "We have really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or it really doesn't cause any severe illness comparable to Delta."
Other experts have also cautioned against applying a handful of anecdotal reports to a global assessment of the Omicron variant. "Without knowing the age of the individuals, whether they had preexisting health conditions, so on and so forth, it's difficult to really draw any conclusions," Nirav Shah, MD, president of the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, explained in a media briefing Dec. 3, per Insider. "Old saying, 'the plural of anecdote is not data' applies with particular force here."