dr Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of NIAID, answers questions from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions January 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
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White House Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday the U.S. is at a crossroads in the Covid-19 pandemic as new omicron subvariants gain ground across the country.
Fauci said in a radio interview Thursday the pandemic has weakened significantly since last winter, but deaths, which average more than 2,600 a week, are still far too high. At the same time, the new omicron variants reject important tools for protecting the weakest.
“We are really at a point that could be a crossroads here. As we move into the cooler months, we are beginning to see the emergence of sublineage variants of Omicron,” Fauci said on Conversations on Health Care radio. Show.
Natural infection by the BA.5 subvariant or vaccination with the new boosters should provide protection against these subvariants in healthy people, Fauci said. But US health officials are concerned the sub-variants will essentially knock out antibody treatments like Evusheld, which play a key role in protecting people with severely compromised immune systems, he said.
The omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are of most importance. They are resistant to Evusheld and are increasing every week in the US. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 together account for 27% of infections, while omicron BA.5 has dropped to 50%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fauci said the US must drastically reduce the number of Covid deaths, which currently stands at around 400 a day, before the country can declare the pandemic over.
“We’re still in the middle of it — it’s not over yet,” Fauci said. “400 deaths a day is not an acceptable level. We want to get it much lower.”
Fauci said hospitals could face a “negative trifecta” this winter from emerging Covid variants, as well as resurgent flu and respiratory syncytial virus. The US should expect a more severe flu season based on observations by scientists in Australia, he said. And there is already a significant increase in RSV cases in the US, he added.
“It’s going to be very confusing and could even put a strain on the hospital system, especially for the pediatric population,” Fauci said.
Although RSV resembles a common cold for most people, the virus can be dangerous to infants and newborns. According to the CDC, between 58,000 and 80,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized with it each year.
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The severity of the flu varies from season to season, depending on the effectiveness of the vaccine and the circulating strain. The worst season of the past decade was 2017, when the virus killed 52,000 people and hospitalized more than 700,000, according to the CDC. In the mildest season before the pandemic, the flu killed 23,000 people and hospitalized 280,000.
There is no vaccine against RSV yet, although Pfizer has a candidate that is 81% effective in preventing serious illness in newborns. New boosters for Omicron and flu shots are widespread.
Fauci said everyone who is eligible should get their Covid boosters and flu shot. People who are at high risk from respiratory viruses should consider wearing a mask in public, Fauci said. Those who have vulnerable people in their homes should do the same, he said.
People should also consider taking rapid Covid tests before going to indoor social gatherings where people at risk will be present, Fauci said.
“It’s a very good way to make sure you’re not spreading infection, so do tests, wear masks where necessary and get vaccinated,” he said.