Fauci: Omicron not as severe for vaccinated

Early data show the omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be less severe than the delta strain among people who are vaccinated, Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Citing international studies and some initial data from U.S. hospitals, Fauci said people who are vaccinated and boosted are also less likely to be hospitalized. And despite a surge in infections over the past month, hospitalizations have not increased nearly as quickly.

“We know now, incontrovertibly, that this is a highly, highly transmissible virus. We know that from the numbers we’re seeing,” Fauci told reporters during a White House briefing.

However, he said, “all indications point to a lesser severity of omicron versus delta.”

The numbers: Omicron is now the dominant strain of coronavirus, but delta is still prominent. Cases were already rising steadily this fall because of the delta variant, but the emergence of omicron in the past month has led to a near vertical spike.

The U.S. on Tuesday broke a record for most single-day COVID-19 infections, with 441,278 cases. That surpassed the previous daily record by close to 150,000.

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported another 431,567 infections. The seven-day average of cases hit a record 277,241, an increase of more than 60 percent over the past week.

Positive signs? Fauci on Wednesday said there’s been a 126 percent increase in cases over the past two weeks, but only an 11 percent increase in hospitalizations.

While hospitalizations and deaths are a lagging indicator, the “disparity between cases and hospitalizations strongly suggest there will be a lower hospitalization to case ratio,” Fauci said.

Fauci noted that omicron has some ability to evade immunity, particularly against infection. But for people who are vaccinated, they remain protected against severe illness.