Senior U.S. health officials on Friday sought to reassure an anxious public that the federal government is doing all it can to track and tamp down the spread of the new coronavirus variant, Omicron.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Biden, said at a press briefing that the scientists are closely monitoring the rate at which cases double to see whether Omicron will overtake Delta to become the dominant variant in the United States — and if so, when. The variant has now been detected in six states, though most cases involve returning travelers.
Within about two weeks, he said, “we’ll know more about transmission, immune evasion and severity of disease.”
He suggested that with the emergence of the new variant, which has multiple troubling mutations that have yet to be fully assessed, booster shots were even more important. He said that studies now indicated that a third dose of the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna markedly increased recipients’ level of antibodies, and raised the levels of memory B and T cells. All three are important indicators of how well the immune system can protect against the coronavirus.
“Although we haven’t proven it yet, there’s every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross protection, very likely against severe disease, even against the Omicron variant,” he said.
On Thursday, the day after the first reported case of an Omicron infection in the United States, more people got vaccinated than any day since May, according to Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator. Mr. Zients said 2.2 million shots were administered, including more than one million booster shots.
While drawing conclusions from one-day totals is risky, especially when the holiday season could cause lags in reporting, Mr. Zients called the uptick “important progress.”
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation is better equipped to fight the virus than it was a year ago, citing more prevention and treatment methods, and “more knowledge and experience from addressing other variants such as Delta.”