Dr. Anthony Fauci has a sober warning for Americans: don’t be surprised if a new, more dangerous Covid variant emerges this coming winter.
“We have to anticipate that we could very well have another variant emerge that evades the immune response that we got from infection and/or vaccination,” Fauci told an event with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism this week.
Statistically, pandemic trends like hospitalizations and deaths are currently down nationwide: the seven-day rolling average of new Covid deaths in the United States is 323 on Wednesday, for example. That’s well below the country’s 1,000 to 2,500 in February and March, according to Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But Fauci urged Americans not to let their guard down because there is always “upside risk” during the winter months. “It looks like we’re headed in the right direction,” he said, adding, “However, I think it would be a bit cavalier to say all of a sudden, ‘We’re completely done with [the pandemic].'”
Fauci pointed to the summer of 2021, when the United States experienced equally weak pandemic trends, only for the omicron variant to emerge and cause a record increase in cases last winter. Since then, several omicron subvariants have spread and become dominant in the United States.
This includes BA.5, which currently accounts for 81.3% of all outstanding cases, according to CDC data. BA.5 and its predecessor, BA.4, are three times less susceptible to antibodies from the original Covid vaccines than even the original omicron strain, research suggests.
“We shouldn’t be surprised” if another new, more transmissible variant emerges this winter, Fauci said. Emerging research suggests that some new sub-variants, including one called BA.4.6, seem to evade immunity even more effectively than BA.5 – although it’s unclear if any of them will outperform BA.5 in as the country’s dominant Covid strain.
Which does get a new omicron-specific Covid booster all the more crucial, Fauci noted. All Americans age 12 and older are eligible for a, if they have completed their first round of Covid vaccines. About a third of American adults say they have already received a new booster or intend to do so “as soon as possible”, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation Last week.
“We’re encouraging people, especially now that we’re in the fall, to get this particular updated vaccine, which luckily for us is for the main circulating variant,” Fauci said.
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