Vaccinations and booster shots continue to be the best defense against the coronavirus for the U.S., even with the spread of the new omicron variant, which now has been reported in at least 15 states, health officials said Sunday.
Vaccines developed to fight the original COVID-19 strain have offered good protection against the delta variant, the dominant strain in the U.S., said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He believes they will help with omicron, especially for those who also get a booster shot.
"If you get boosted … we feel certain that there will be some degree and maybe a considerable degree of protection against the omicron variant if in fact it starts to take hold in a dominant way in this country,” Fauci told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
When Tapper pointed out that hospitalizations are not increasing rapidly in South Africa, where omicron was first reported last month, despite what appears to be a high degree of transmissibility, Fauci offered tempered optimism.
“It’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it,'' he said. "Thus far it does not look like a great degree of severity to it, but we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn't cause any severe illness comparable to delta.”
While omicron has rightfully raised concerns, the delta variant, accounting for 99.9% of the 90,000 to 100,000 cases reported each day in the U.S., remains the main strain to contend with, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
To fight all forms of COVID, she recommended that people get vaccinations and boosters and wear masks in public indoor settings in the 80% of counties where there is high or substantial transmission of the disease.
"We have so many more tools now than we did a year ago," said Walensky, who favors mask recommendations over a national mandate. "We know so many things that work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, regardless of the variant that we've seen before."
Contributing: Katie Wadington
Also in the news:
►Starting Monday, vaccinated travelers from other countries coming into the U.S. will have to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure.
►Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, Wisconsin, Missouri and Louisiana reported their first cases of the omicron variant, according to their state health departments.
►Ten people aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Breakaway tested positive for COVID-19 as it was approaching its return to New Orleans. Company officials said none of the infected persons had symptoms.
►More than 6% of the Air National Guard and Reserve did not meet the deadline to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Air Force.
►The FDA authorized monoclonal antibody treatments made by Eli Lilly for pediatric patients under 12 years old who have underlying conditions that make them high-risk for serious infection.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 49 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 788,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 265.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. More than 198 million Americans – roughly 59.8% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘 What we're reading: Private insurers will have to cover 100% of the cost of at-home coronavirus tests, President Joe Biden announced in laying out a plan to combat COVID-19 during the winter months. Will it be effective?
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Booster uptake grows, but many Republicans still shun vaccine, poll says
Even as booster-shot uptake increases amid the emergence of the new omicron variant, partisanship remains the biggest determining factor when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19, a new survey found.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation's Vaccine Monitor for November, one-quarter of all Republicans, white Evangelicals and uninsured adults under 65 say they definitely won't get the vaccine. That's the biggest opposition to the shots expressed among the 25 categories in the poll's breakdown.
While 91% of Democrats report getting at least one vaccine dose, only 59% of Republicans have done so. A large disparity in the vaccination rate by party has been evident for months.
However, willingness to receive a booster shot has grown. More than twice as many adults say they got one compared to the previous month, and 23% of those fully vaccinated report having been boosted. Biden administration officials have been promoting the shots as a way to increase protection against omicron.
Slow uptake of vaccines for Arizona kids
Nearly a month after children ages 5 to 11 became eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, uptake among Arizona children in that age group remains relatively low.
As of Wednesday, 83,166 Arizona kids in that age range had received their first Pfizer dose, data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows. That works out to 13% of the state's approximately 645,000 kids between those ages.
Public health officials and physicians say that while there is always going to be a segment of the population that won't get the vaccine for their children, they are optimistic the number of vaccinated kids in the state will increase significantly as more parents learn about it and find time to get their kids to appointments and clinics.
Younger age groups lag behind older Arizonans in vaccine uptake but have been slowly increasing. As of Wednesday, 68.4% of Arizona kids in the 12- to 17-year-old age group had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials said.
– Stephanie Innes, The Arizona Republic
Tennessee hospitals cannot require COVID vaccines as Biden mandate remains blocked
In late October, Tennessee lawmakers exempted hospitals from a sweeping ban on vaccine requirements with a catch: They could only mandate vaccines if required by federal rules.
But as President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers remains blocked in federal court, hospitals and other health care facilities – many of which fought to preserve their ability to require vaccines among employees – must now halt all such mandates.
Barring health care groups from requiring vaccines poses a significant public health risk that endangers patient safety, especially as the omicron variant is flaring up across the country, public health experts say.
"I have major public health concerns if we are not going to mandate an evidence-based practice of vaccination," said Manoj Jain, an infectious disease expert in Memphis. "This will compromise patient safety, meaning that when patients are admitted to the hospital, they may not know if their caregiver is vaccinated or not."
– Yue Stella Yu, The Nashville Tennessean
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccines, boosters are top tools against delta, omicron variants