US Coronavirus: Officials urge vaccination ahead of Omicron concerns, with experts warning even mild Covid infections risk stronger mutations


Cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in at least 18 countries and territories as of Tuesday. And while no cases have yet been found in the US, officials are working to do what they can ahead of the variant’s expected arrival.

New York City’s government is now highly recommending that residents wear masks while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status, as Canada announced it found three Omicron cases in nearby provinces Ontario and Quebec.

“We do anticipate detecting the Omicron in New York in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread,” city health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. “A lot is still unknown about Omicron since it is so early, but studies are underway and we will know more about the variant in the coming weeks.”

Cognizant of the rampant rise in coronavirus cases following last year’s holiday season, state and local leaders are worried the current rate of infections have primed conditions for another surge, with or without new variants. The level of infections nationwide has yet to return to summer lows, upended by a drive in cases largely triggered by the spread of the Delta variant, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Citing “hotspots” in the western and northern portions of the state, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned Monday “the winter surge may be here, or we’re just at the beginning.”

Cases and hospitalizations are trending upward, she said, and the Omicron variant may contribute to a shrinking number of hospital beds available.

Americans face at least 2 weeks of uncertainty as scientists work to answer 3 key questions about the new Omicron variant

“If this new variant takes the state by storm, and the vaccination and boosters don’t fight it as much as we hope that it will — and we just don’t have enough data right now — then we will be looking at perhaps even higher number of hospitals who are in trouble,” Hochul said.

Health experts in New York and throughout the nation are emphasizing that vaccinations are the strongest defense against new variants because they decrease spread and, therefore, mutations.

Dr. Jorge E. Rodriguez, an internal medicine specialist and CNN medical analyst, says those who are unvaccinated often take longer to beat back infections and need to be inoculated.

“The virus mutates when people get infected. It doesn’t mutate in the air, so even though you’ve got infected and you did fine, guess what. You may very well have contributed to mutations that will be stronger, so there is no such thing as a good infection even if you survived it with minimal symptoms,” he said.

About 59.3% of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and about 20.5% of those fully vaccinated have received a booster dose.
A Covid-19 vaccination is administered at an outdoor walk-up site in Washington, DC, on November 29, 2021

Get your booster, CDC urges

The CDC upped its recommendations Monday regarding booster shots for those already inoculated due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Previously, the agency said people should get a booster if they are 50 and older, or 18 and older and living in long term care. Otherwise, it advised that anyone 18 and older may get a booster. Now the word “should” applies to everyone 18 and older.

“I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well, because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

How to fight Covid-19 while the scientists wait for answers on Omicron

Initial doses of vaccination as well as boosters are “the best chance we’ve got to drive this Covid-19 pandemic away,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

“We still have, of course, in the US a serious surge of the Delta variant, we should be thinking about that,” he told CNN’s Jim Sciutto Monday. “Your best protection against Delta is to get vaccinated, and if you’ve already been vaccinated and six months have passed since you got Pfizer or Moderna, get your booster, two months since J&J (Johnson & Johnson), get your booster.”

“That was a reason already, but now add Omicron to the mix,” he said. “And we do believe that this new variant, which will probably come to our shores, will also be something vaccines and boosters can help you with.”

Boosters for those under the age of 18 may soon become available. Pfizer is expected to seek authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine booster shot for those who are ages 16 and 17, a source familiar with the plan tells CNN. Currently only those age 18 and up are eligible for booster shots six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Travel restrictions instituted as Omicron is studied

The Biden administration moved swiftly upon the news of Omicron’s emergence, restricting travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday.

The Omicron variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain in South Africa — where scientists first discovered and reported it — less than two weeks after it was first detected. By contrast, the Delta variant took a few months to become the dominant strain there earlier this year.

Yet at least one medical expert says travel bans don’t really work to stop the spread of coronavirus variants.

“I think this is really an illusion of protection,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan Monday. “The metaphor that I have been using — it’s like locking a screen door. You feel like you’ve done something to protect yourself, but you really haven’t.”

Travel restrictions by country following the Omicron variant outbreak
Foreign travelers to the US have to be fully vaccinated and tested, Reiner said, and those kinds of measures are effective at reducing the import of viruses. But Reiner and several other scientists think Omicron is likely present in the US already.

“I’m not sure what this ban will achieve, other than to add some disincentive to other countries that might be looking to do intense sequencing and identify variants,” Reiner said. “This might incentivize those countries to maybe, you know, back off on that a little bit because no good deed goes unpunished.”

The potential increase in the virus’ ability to spread makes the need to understand the variant an international priority. Whether the variant can evade vaccines may take two to four weeks to determine, World Health Organization Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday.

“I think we’ll get some information on transmissibility and severity in the coming days, maybe a week or two,” Van Kerkhove said, adding, “I do want to take this opportunity to thank the amazing scientists in South Africa, who were so forthright in sharing this information with us.”

CNN’s Jen Christensen, Deidre McPhillips, Kristina Sgueglia, Maggie Fox, Virginia Langmaid, Kaitlan Collins, Paula Newton, Taylor Romine and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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