US officials expect vaccines to retain some efficacy against Omicron variant
Washington – White House officials expressed optimism on Tuesdayvaccines licensed and approved in the United States will provide at least some efficacy against , especially against serious illnesses.
Dr.Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, told a White House briefing that it is “possible” that the new mutations in the variant lead to a significant reduction in antibody levels, but the available vaccines, and especially booster doses, are likely to provide some protection.
“There is every reason to believe, while we are talking about boosters, when you get a level high enough that you will get at least some degree of cross-protection, especially against serious illnesses,” he said. .
Fauci added that it will likely be two weeks before health officials have more solid data on the impact of the variant on the effectiveness of the vaccine. He said it was still too early to say whether the variant is more communicable or more severe.
While anecdotes in South Africa have suggested that patients infected with Omicron have had mild illness, Fauci warned that more data is needed before this is confirmed. He added that health officials in South Africa also said it was too early to determine the severity of the disease.
As the United States braces for the arrival of Omicron, more than 220 cases of the new variant have been reported in at least 20 countries. In response to fears that the new mutations in the variant could lead to increased transmissibility and immune evasion, the United States instituted a travel ban on eight countries in southern Africa on Monday.
Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the United States is expanding its surveillance program at some US airports to monitor passengers from certain countries. In a Release, XpresSpa Group, CDC and Ginkgo Bioworks partner on the airport surveillance program, said it was expanding to include passengers from southern Africa.
The program is already in place at airports in Newark, New York and San Francisco, and is being extended to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Walensky also noted that since the start of the pandemic, the United States has increased its genomic sequencing capacity ten-fold, from 8,000 tests sequenced per week to around 80,000.
Nonetheless, federal health officials have said they are making contingency plans in case vaccines need to be updated to specifically target the Omicron variant.
Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said it could take “a few months” for these vaccines to be available, including the time it would take for the updated vaccines to pass through the regulatory process and for enough doses to be manufactured for the American people.
“This is obviously an estimate and we plan, in this scenario, not only to support manufacturers through this process if necessary, but also how quickly would we get shots? ” he said.
Each official stressed that the most effective way to prepare for the variant is to get vaccinated and eligible Americans are given a booster. More than 40 million U.S. adults are still unvaccinated and less than a quarter of fully immunized adults have been boosted.
On Monday, the CDC stepped up its recommendations for boosters, now advising every American adult to receive a booster six months after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The agency previously recommended that non-high-risk young adults under the age of 50 “may” receive a booster dose.