Omicron Update: CDC, Biden Advise Urgency
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shifted its recommendation on adults getting a booster COVID-19 vaccine to now include everyone ages 18 years and older as the threat of the new Omicron variant looms.
Not much is known about the severity of Omicron yet, only that it was first detected in South Africa, and it has over 30 mutations of the spike protein characteristic of the other viruses. Some mutations were observed to reduce antibody protection and have a higher rate of transmission.
Previously, the CDC had only recommended booster vaccines as optional, with only those over 50 urged strongly to get them. The directive has changed to state that all adults “should” get their booster dose: six months after completing either a Moderna or Pfizer–BioNTech course or two months after Johnson & Johnson‘s Janssen shot. Any of the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. can be used for the booster shot.
“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19. Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant and the potential for immune evasion,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Even the World Health Organization, via a technical paper released on Sunday, described Omicron as highly divergent. However, tests are still being conducted on the variant. Scientists have yet to identify how transmissible it can be, how well the current vaccines will hold up against it, and if it is less or more severe than the prevalent Delta variation.
The WHO recommended that all countries go forward with vaccination drives as rapidly as possible and adopt a risk-based approach with regard to international travel. Governments are also urged to be ready with contingency plans in case of a massive surge, particularly during winter.
“The use of masks, physical distancing, ventilation of indoor space, crowd avoidance, and hand hygiene remain key to reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 even with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Contact tracing of COVID‐19 cases to interrupt chains of transmission of SARS‐ CoV‐2 is strongly advised,” said the paper.
In response to the threat of another surge from possibly a more dangerous variant, U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement urging the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to take the “fastest route possible, without cutting any corners” with regard to approving any new or enhanced vaccines that can combat Omicron. The U.S. government also issued travel restrictions in regards to South Africa and other nearby countries as a preventive step. As of this writing, there is no reported case of an Omicron-led infection in the United States.
Despite the call for heightened measures, vaccine makers don’t seem to be unfazed. Speaking at the CNBC Show “Squawk Box,”Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said that they have the capacity to develop a new vaccine within 100 days. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel had also said they could quickly alter their booster shot to contain a higher dose, as needed.