According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is spreading faster in New York and New Jersey compared to other states. Walensky said that the new variant is estimated to account for about 3% of infections that are being genetically sequenced nationwide, with the highest rates being recorded in those two states.
“In some areas of the country, the estimates of Omicron are even higher including in New York and New Jersey, where CDC projects that omicron could represent about 13% of all cases,” Walensky said at a COVID-19 press briefing.
Experts have suggested that the case rates are likely far underreported due to the easy transmissibility of the variant. The CDC director said that Omicron is more contagious than Delta, which currently accounts for a majority of the nation’s COVID-19 cases. Omicron will likely surpass delta in the near future as cases have been doubling on a daily basis.
Despite having a higher rate of transmissibility, mild symptoms have largely been reported or recorded. Researchers in Massachusetts recently found that the new variant shares genetic code with the virus responsible for the common cold. This, according to researchers, could explain why the virus is spreading more rapidly with extremely mild symptoms. The study is currently awaiting peer review.
As for Omicron case rates, New York and New Jersey lead the nation despite high vaccination rates in both states. According to the Mayo Clinic, 70.5% of New Yorkers have received at least two-doses of a COVID-19 vaccine while New Jersey lags slightly behind at 69.5%. This puts both states among the top 10 regarding state vaccination rates, trailing only a handful of New England states and West Virginia. The CDC has previously stated that only 20% of Omicron cases have been recorded in unvaccinated individuals.
Despite this, Walensky urged the need for individuals to get vaccinated during the press conference on Wednesday. “It means that it is vital for everyone to get vaccinated and boosted if they are eligible,” Walensky said, stressing the transmissibility of the new variant.
Dr. Anthony Fauci also weighed in, stating that omicron has a “rather profound” ability to evade the protection provided by the widely circulated two-dose mRNA vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer. Fauci then encouraged booster shots, adding that they enhanced immunity “to the tune of a 38-fold increase.”
Fauci added that booster shots have proven effective at preventing Omicron hospitalizations. “If we didn’t have these tools, I would be telling you to be really, really worried,” Fauci said. “Booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron,” Fauci said, adding, “at this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster:”
Some countries, including Israel, have updated the definition of “fully vaccinated” to include booster shots. Cities with stringent vaccine requirements such as New York and Los Angeles have yet to make boosters a requirement to achieve “fully vaccinated” status, nor has the federal government, but the possibility remains on the table. Pfizer-BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin recently revealed that company was working on an Omicron-specific vaccine that would be administered in three doses.
This would be in addition to the initial two doses of the vaccine and a booster, totaling six jabs all together.