US Coronavirus: Officials Call for Vaccination Prior to Omicron Concerns, with Experts Warning That Even Mild Covid Infections Risk Stronger Mutations

Cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in at least 18 countries and territories since Tuesday. And although no cases have yet been found in the United States, officials are working to do what they can prior to the variant’s expected arrival.

The New York City government now strongly recommends that residents wear masks while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status, when Canada announced it found three Omicron cases in nearby provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“We expect to discover Omicron in New York in the coming days based on what we know about its global spread,” said the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi. “Much is still unknown about Omicron as it is so early, but investigations are underway and we will know more about the variant in the coming weeks.”

As is aware of the sharp rise in coronavirus cases after last year’s holiday season, state and local leaders are concerned that the current rate of infection has laid the conditions for another rise, with or without new variants. The level of infections nationwide has not yet returned to summer lichen, amplified by a drive in cases largely triggered by the spread of the Delta variant, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Referring to “hotspots” in the western and northern parts of the state, New York Governor Kathy Hochul warned Monday “the winter rise may be here, or we are only at the beginning.”

Cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, she said, and the Omicron variant could contribute to a declining number of available hospital beds.

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 do not fight it as much as we hope it will – and we just do not have enough data right now – then we will look at perhaps even higher numbers of hospitals there. is in trouble, “Hochul said.

Health experts in New York and across the country emphasize that vaccinations are the strongest defense against new variants because they reduce spread and thus mutations.

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

“The virus mutates when people get infected. It does not mutate in the air, so even if you have been infected and you did fine, guess what. You may well have contributed to mutations that get 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 administered at an outdoor walk-up site in Washington, DC, on November 29, 2021

Get your booster, urges the CDC

On Monday, the CDC raised its recommendations regarding booster shots to those who have already been vaccinated due to the advent of the Omicron variant.

Earlier, 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 is advisable that everyone 18 years and older can get a booster. Now the word “should” applies to all 18 years and older.

“I strongly urge the 47 million adults who have not yet been vaccinated to be vaccinated as soon as possible and to also vaccinate children and teenagers in their families, because strong immunity is likely to prevent serious illness,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. .

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

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

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

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

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

Travel restrictions introduced as Omicron have been investigated

The Biden administration moved quickly after the news of Omicron’s rise and limited travel from South Africa and seven other countries from 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 discovered. In contrast, the Delta variant took a few months to become the dominant strain there earlier in the year.

Still, at least one medical expert says travel bans are not really working to stop the spread of coronavirus variants.

“I think this is really an illusion of protection,” said CNN’s medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, to CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday. “The metaphor I’ve used – it’s like locking a screen door. You feel like you’ve done something to protect yourself, but you really do not.”

Country travel restrictions following the outbreak of the Omicron variant
Foreign travelers to the United States must be fully vaccinated and tested, Reiner said, and such measures are effective in reducing virus imports. But Reiner and several other researchers believe that Omicron is probably already present in the United States.

“I’m not sure what this ban will achieve, other than adding some deterrent incentives to other countries that may be seeking to do intense sequencing and identify variants,” Reiner said. “This might encourage these countries to maybe, you know, withdraw a little bit from it because no good deed remains unpunished.”

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

“I think we’ll get some information on portability and difficulty in the coming days, maybe a week or two,” Van Kerkhove said, adding, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank the amazing scientists in South Africa who were so just by 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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