The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading at higher rates in New York and New Jersey than the rest of the country, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday — as experts warned the strain has a “rather profound” ability to escape vaccine protection.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the contagious, new variant is estimated to account for about 3% of infections nationwide.
“In some areas of the country, the estimates of Omicron are even higher including in New York and New Jersey, where CDC projects that Omicron could represent about 13% of all cases,” Walensky said at a COVID-19 press briefing.
Walensky cautioned that Omicron is more transmissible than the Delta variant, which is currently the dominant strain in the country — with cases of it doubling every two days.
“It means that it is vital for everyone to get vaccinated and boosted if they are eligible,” Walensky said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said preliminary studies indicate that Omicron has a “rather profound” ability to escape the protection provided by two-dose mRNA vaccines, but that booster shots significantly enhanced immunity “to the tune of a 38 fold increase.”
“Booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron,” Fauci said, adding, “at this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster:”
Despite the arrival of Omicron in the country, experts stressed that it was not necessary to impose lockdowns.
“We have the tools to fight this virus, including Omicron. And we’re in a very different, a stronger place than we were a year ago, and there’s no need to lockdown,” said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, who pointed to the vaccines being approved for children over the age of 5 as well as all adults being eligible for boosters.
“We know how to keep our kids in school and our businesses open. We’re not going to shut down our economy in any way,” he continued.