CDC director: We don’t yet know how well vaccines will work against omicron variant

CDC director: We don’t yet know how well vaccines will work against omicron variant

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that public health officials don’t yet know how well COVID-19 vaccines will work.

“We know it has many mutations, more mutations than prior variants, and many of those mutations have been associated with more transmissible variants with evasion of some of our therapeutics and potentially invasion — evasion of some of our immunity, and that’s what we’re watching really carefully,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on ABC’ “This Week.” “What we don’t yet know is how transmissible it will be, how well our vaccines will work, whether it will lead to more severe disease.”

Dr. Walensky said she was aware of several dozen cases of the omicron variant across “about 15 states” as of Saturday night, but that 99.9% of the 90,000 to 100,000 COVID cases discovered daily in the U.S. are the delta variant.

She said the government remains hopeful that existing vaccines will keep people infected with omicron out of the hospital in the months to come.

“We know from a vaccine standpoint that the more mutations a single variant has, the more immunity you really need to have in order to combat that variant, which is why right now we’re really pushing to get more people vaccinated and more people boosted to really boost that immunity in every single individual,” Dr. Walensky said. “We’re really hopeful that our vaccines will work in a way that even if they don’t prevent disease entirely, prevent infection entirely, that they can work to prevent severe disease and keep people out of the hospital.”

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that a new case of the omicron variant in his state affected an elderly person who was immunized.

“I know in the release your office put out it did indicate the individual was inoculated. Did he receive, or she receive, a booster shot?” said CBS host Margaret Brennan.

“I’m not sure about the booster shot; I do know that the patient was immunized and over the age of 60,” Mr. Lamont said. “I think sometimes there’s too much emphasis upon the infection. The good news is — on the vaccination — in this case, the patient is at home resting peacefully and no need to go to the hospital. And that’s one of the key things that the vaccines we know are effective at.”

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that omicron probably arose in an immunocompromised person.

“It’s certainly possible that this is not the last emerging variant that will attract a lot of attention and a lot of concern,” Dr. Collins said. “This one does have the largest number of mutations that we’ve seen so far — omicron with about 50 mutations, compared to the original Wuhan virus. And it looks as if they probably arose in an immunocompromised individual, this is a hypothesis but it seems plausible, who wasn’t able to completely fight off the virus.”

Dr. Collins said more mutations are likely to happen if adequate immune protection does not increase across the globe and noted, “we’ll have to use some of the other letters in the Greek alphabet.”

On Saturday, New York officials announced three more cases of the omicron variant, bringing the number of state cases linked to the new variant to eight.

“The omicron variant is here, and as anticipated we are seeing the beginning of community spread,” state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said in a news release.

The number of states finding the variant is growing as well, with Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington state announcing their first cases Saturday, a day after New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Maryland reported their first confirmed cases. Missouri reported its first presumed case Friday.

The variant also has been detected in Nebraska, Minnesota, California, Hawaii, Colorado and Utah.

Meanwhile, 10 people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship approaching New Orleans have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Saturday night.

The Norwegian Breakaway departed the city Nov. 28 and was due to return this weekend after making stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico in recent days, Louisiana’s health agency said. More than 3,200 people are on board. Officials did not immediately say whether the passengers had been tested for virus variants.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Health, The New York Today