Story at a glance

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a call with top health officials to discuss possible scenarios with the omicron variant next year.
  • One model predicted a surge of delta COVID-19 cases along with influenza infections in January. The second model predicted a smaller surge that would hit in springtime.
  • It’s not clear which one is more likely to occur.

As the new omicron variant grips the entire world with yet another wave of COVID-19 infections, top health officials warned that things could become much worse in January.

According to The Washington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) held a briefing on Tuesday that detailed possible scenarios for how the omicron variant could spread throughout the U.S., as the health agency also released modeling data that estimates the recent proportion of variants circulating around the country. 

The data indicates that the delta variant is still the dominant strain in the U.S., comprising almost 97 percent of total cases. The omicron variant as of Dec. 11 accounts for just under 3 percent of all total cases, which was first declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 26. 

In some areas of the country the percentage of omicron cases is higher, with the CDC projecting 13 percent of New York and New Jersey’s COVID-19 cases consist of the omicron variant.

Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, who participated in the CDC call told the Post, “I’m a lot more alarmed. I’m worried.”


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According to the Post, one model presented was a worse-case scenario that involved waves of delta variant COVID-19 infections and influenza infections hitting health care systems simultaneously. The second, more modest, model suggested a small omicron surge in the springtime.

It’s not clear which model is more likely to come true. 

On Tuesday, WHO also announced that 77 countries had reported cases of the omicron variant and that, “the reality is that omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected.”

WHO emphasized that omicron is spreading at a rate not seen before with COVID-19 variants and that the agency was concerned, “people are dismissing omicron as mild.” 

However, multiple reports around the world have revealed that omicron may not cause as severe of illness as delta or earlier strains of COVID-19, but still, the sheer number of positive cases could once again, “overwhelm unprepared health systems,” said WHO.

Which is precisely what the U.S. is experiencing right now, with multiple states reporting overwhelmed hospitals and health care workers. In Minnesota, a group of doctors even took out an ad in a local paper to urge residents to get vaccinated and help their “overfilled” and “strained” operations. 

Globally, health officials agree that vaccinations remain the answer to the pandemic, even as omicron seeps its way through the world.

Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and BioNTech announced a few weeks ago that preliminary lab studies found that three doses of their vaccine, “neutralize the omicron variant while two doses show significantly reduced neutralization titers.” 

The emphasis was put on the third dose, with Pfizer saying that booster shots increased the neutralizing antibody titers by 25-fold against the omicron variant when compared to only two doses of its vaccine.

During a White House COVID-19 press conference on Wednesday, Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden, presented multiple studies showing the effectiveness of the current slate of vaccines against omicron. Fauci noted that those people who had received a third booster shot experienced a 75 percent increase in effectiveness against the omicron variant.

Fauci emphasized, “our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”

That may come as a relief to many, as health officials initially scrambled to study the new omicron variant and understand how it would react to the currently available vaccines. 

According to the CDC, 72 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 61 percent are considered fully vaccinated, which currently is defined as those who have received two doses. 

However, only about 27 percent of the U.S. population has received a booster shot, despite anyone over the age of 16 being eligible for it.


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Published on Dec 16, 2021