White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci said Friday it should be about two weeks before scientists fully understand how transmissible and severe the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 truly is, and until then, people need to get vaccinations and booster shots.
During a briefing by the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Fauci said South African researchers are leading the way but even their studies will take another week or two to get clinical data. The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa and there are more and longer-term cases to study there, he said.
The White House response team repeated a message delivered earlier this week by President Joe Biden, that omicron is a variant of concern. Fauci presented new data showing both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are markedly boosting antibodies and stressed the need for people to get vaccinated.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said her agency is working with health departments across the United States to help them quickly conduct the genome sequencing necessary to isolate and identify the omicron variant. She said the CDC is far more effective at this process than it was earlier this year.
Walensky stressed that while the focus is on the omicron variant, the delta variant of the virus is dominant in the U.S. and responsible for 99.9 percent of all cases in the country, especially among the unvaccinated.
White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that 2.2 million vaccinations – including more than one million boosters – were administered in the U.S. on Thursday, the highest single-day total since May.
Zients said Biden has outlined areas where his administration is taking action to address the potential threat posed by the omicron variant, including vaccinations and boosters for adults, getting kids vaccinated, providing free home testing kits, strengthening travel rules and getting the rest of the world vaccinated.
To the last point, Zients said the U.S. has donated 1.2 billion doses of vaccine for global distribution, more than all other nations combined. Friday alone, he said, the U.S. shipped 11 million doses of vaccine, nine million of which were designated for Africa.