As the highly-contagious omicron variant quickly spreads across the country, a respiratory specialist says Americans should expect to see more breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated people — and that's fine.
Speaking on the Today show, Dr. Vin Gupta from the University of Washington said that they're "forecasting that cases are going to rise" in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but those with their shots are going to be protected against severe illness.
"We have to get comfortable with fully vaccinated folks testing positive, that's going to be our new normal," Gupta told the Today show hosts. "But people should not worry about that because the purpose of vaccines is not to prevent a positive test or a respiratory virus like omicron, it's to keep you out of the hospital, and that's exactly what they're doing."
Gupta explained that with respiratory viruses like COVID-19 or the flu, it's not possible to fully prevent infections, but vaccines keep them from becoming severe and leading to hospitalization or death.
The CDC is now predicting a massive spike in COVID infections by the end of Christmas week, fueled by the omicron variant. @VinGuptaMD shares what this could mean for your holiday plans. pic.twitter.com/2qrAp4pqHa
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 16, 2021
"With respiratory viruses, we can't ever prevent a positive test or mild symptoms," he said. "They're totally okay and that's what we expect. The vaccines are doing exactly what they should be for respiratory viruses; they're keeping people out of the hospital and that's a success."
For the unvaccinated, though, the next few months could be dire as omicron spreads, Gupta warned.
Getty COVID-19 testing
"Myself and colleagues at hospitals across the country, we're expecting, frankly, 10,000 weekly deaths, week over week, well into the beginning of March," he said. "So this is going to be a very difficult three to four months ahead."
Gupta's estimates reflect what the Centers for Disease Control had said in a briefing on Tuesday, where they predicted that omicron could lead to a massive spike in COVID-19 cases by January.
RELATED VIDEO: These Celebrities Are Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine to Protect Themselves and Others
The CDC said that the variant has moved swiftly through the U.S., with cases of omicron jumping up sevenfold in just the last week.
On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, urged people to get vaccinated or boosted ahead of the holidays and winter season.
"Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron," he said. "At this point, there is no need for a very specific booster. And so the message remains clear: If you are unvaccinated get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of omicron if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot."