The White House COVID-19 Response team Wednesday said early data indicates the omicron coronavirus variant is spreading in the U.S., but current vaccine boosters appear to be effective in fighting it.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the variant is in 36 U.S. states and accounts for 3% of all U.S. COVID-19 cases, though it is higher in some areas, such as New York and New Jersey, where it may account for as much 13% of cases.
Walensky said while the vast majority — 96% — of U.S. cases are still caused by the delta variant, she said early data show the omicron variant spreads faster than delta, with cases doubling in about two days.
Walensky, along with White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci and COVID-19 Response coordinator Jeff Zients, cited data showing being fully vaccinated along with a booster shot is the best way to fight off the new variant.
“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” Fauci said. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”
Walensky cited recent data from U.S. nursing homes showing unvaccinated or fully vaccinated residents without boosters were 10 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than residents fully vaccinated with boosters. Fauci cited the most real-world studies showing boosters can increase anti-body protection against omicron by as much as 35 times.
Zients cited CDC statistics showing an unvaccinated person is eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 14 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than a fully vaccinated person. He said a new study from the Yale University of Public Health shows the U.S. vaccination program prevented 10.3 million hospitalizations and saved 1.1 million lives.
The COVID-19 response coordinator said 14 million people received booster shots in the first two weeks of December, with 26 million total shots in arms during the same period. In total, the team reports more than 200 million U.S. residents are now fully vaccinated, and more than 55 million have received booster shots.
Some information in this report was provided by the Reuters news agency.