It is “almost certain” that the Omicron variant does not cause more serious cases of Covid-19 than Delta, the eminent American scientist Anthony Fauci told AFP on Tuesday, adding that it would be necessary to wait another “two weeks at least” to see if it works. be even less dangerous.
The White House adviser on the health crisis spoke in a telephone interview about the first known elements and the uncertainties surrounding the new variant that is spreading in the world: its transmissibility, the immune response of vaccinated and old patients and the severity of the infections.
Omicron is “clearly highly transmissible”, possibly more so than Delta, which is almost hegemonic in the world, according to Dr. Fauci.
The results of laboratory experiments on the effectiveness of antibodies in current vaccines should be known “in the next few days to a week from now,” he said.
Worldwide epidemiological data also show a higher rate of reinfections with Omicron and that the variant is probably more immune to the immunity of the vaccine.
But “it’s almost certainly no more serious than Delta,” Anthony Fauci said.
“There are some signs that it may even be less serious.”
Studies currently being carried out in South Africa, where the variant was detected in November, show that the relationship between contaminations and number of hospitalizations “seems lower than for Delta,” he explained.
– Two scenarios –
The data from South Africa should not be overinterpreted, he warned, however, the population of this country has the peculiarity of being very young and with a lower risk of being hospitalized, while severe forms can take several weeks to develop.
“I think it will take another two weeks at least in South Africa, then when we have more infections in the rest of the world, it might take us longer to see the actual level of severity,” Dr. Fauci emphasized.
As it is, a virus that is more communicable but does not cause a serious form or an increase in hospitalizations would be “the most favorable scenario,” he explained.
“The worst case scenario would be to have a virus that is not only more easily transmitted, but also causes severe forms of the disease and leads to another wave of infections that are not necessarily alleviated by the vaccine or previous contamination,” the scientist warned.
“I don’t think the worst case scenario happens, but you never know,” he said.
The Omicron variant is now present in at least 38 countries.
Even if it is not linked to any deaths at the moment, scientists are concerned about the unprecedented number of its mutations, including about thirty in the spike protein, the key to entering the virus into the body.
– Disinformation –
Its origin is still unknown, but there are two theories, according to Dr. Fauci.
It may have developed in an immunosuppressed patient, such as someone with HIV who did not fight the virus quickly enough.
Or it can be transmitted from human to animal, and then again after mutating, in a case of “reverse zoonosis.”
To fight its spread, Anthony Fauci advocates caution, especially when traveling, and wearing a mask indoors if we do not know the vaccination status of other people present. Those who are eligible for the third dose of the vaccine should also receive it as soon as possible.
Studies, especially in Israel, show that the booster dose dramatically increases the level of antibodies and the intensity of the immune response, the doctor said.
But it is still too early to know if this response is sustainable enough or if other vaccines will need to be considered, he stressed.
In the United States, 60% of the population has been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, but much remains to be done, according to Dr. Fauci.
The 80-year-old scientist, who has become the face of the fight against Covid-19, denounced the misinformation that is holding back the vaccination campaign, especially in Republican-controlled states.
“There are 60 million people eligible for vaccination who are not, and in most cases for ideological reasons, it is unfortunate,” he lamented.
“We should have a homogeneous response in terms of public health,” he concluded.
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