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Number of omicron cases in US 'likely to rise,' CDC director says

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  • Rochelle Walensky
    American medical scientist
  • Martha Raddatz
    Martha Raddatz
    American newsmedia personality

With the omicron variant now detected in at least 16 states in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency is "following them closely" and that the number is "likely to rise."

Walensky told "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz that the CDC is still uncertain how transmissible the new variant is and how effective approved COVID-19 vaccines will work against it.

"We know it has many mutations, more mutations than prior variants," she said. "Many of those mutations have been associated with more transmissible variants, with evasion of some of our therapeutics, and potentially evasion of some of our immunity, and that's what we're watching really carefully."

MORE: As delta continues to surge in Pennsylvania, hospital officials urge vaccination

The main concern right now, according to Walensky, is the dominant delta variant in the U.S. and the thousands of cases being diagnosed each day.

"We have about 90 to 100,000 cases a day right now in the United States, and 99.9% of them are the delta variant," she said.

PHOTO: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being interviewed about omicron on 'Good Morning America,' Dec. 3, 2021. (ABC )
PHOTO: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being interviewed about omicron on 'Good Morning America,' Dec. 3, 2021. (ABC )

South African studies have so far shown that omicron is about twice as transmissible as delta, and when pressed by Raddatz on what that means for the next six months in the U.S., Walensky said it depends on how the public mobilizes together.

"We know from a vaccine standpoint that the more mutations a single variant has, the more immunity you really need to have in order to combat that variant, which is why right now we're really pushing to get more people vaccinated and more people boosted to really boost that immunity in every single individual," Walensky said.

She said the CDC is "hopeful" that current vaccines will work to at least prevent severe disease and keep people out of the hospital.

Moderna is currently working on an omicron-specific booster should it be needed and Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, said it could be ready early next year.

In an interview with Raddatz last week, Hoge said that a new variant-specific vaccine would be needed if the level of efficacy dropped below 50%.

Efficacy is a "really interesting, important question, but efficacy is sort of in itself on a spectrum," Walensky said.

"Is it efficacy of preventing disease entirely? Preventing infection entirely, even if it just leads to a runny nose? Or is it efficacy of making sure people stay out of the hospital and prevent death?" Walensky questioned. "Certainly, we want to do the latter, absolutely first. And we'd really like to do the former as well."

Pressed by Raddatz if she fears a worst case scenario is possible with the omicron variant, Walensky said health experts are better situated to tackle the virus now than when it first appeared.

"We have so many more tools now than we did a year ago," she said. "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."

Walensky said getting immunity from the COVID-19 right now is "critically important" and continued to stress the importance of CDC regulations such as masking up in areas with high or substantial transmission.

Number of omicron cases in US 'likely to rise,' CDC director says originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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