Ever since the Omicron variant of the coronavirus first appeared in South Africa just after Thanksgiving, there have been indications that the variant isn’t quite as deadly or severe as previous variants of the virus have been. This has been buoyed by various studies that have come out around the world since then, although some experts have warned that the Omicron variant spreads so quickly that it could overwhelm hospitals anyway.
Now, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and chief White House medical adviser, has signed on to that theory, albeit stating that the reduced severity “appears” to be the case and that he is citing preliminary data.
“All indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta,” Dr. Fauci said Wednesday, per Axios. He added that "final conclusion about the level of severity in children remains to be determined.”
Fauci cited a working paper from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, which was titled “Severity of Omicron variant of concern and vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease: National cohort with nested test negative design study in Scotland.”
The study, a preprint that was first released a week earlier, is not yet peer-reviewed and acknowledges that it is based on early data. But the study indicated that illness from the newer variant is less severe and that vaccines are very helpful against it.
“These early national data suggest that Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta,” the Edinburgh study said. “Whilst offering the greatest protection against Delta, the third/booster dose of vaccination offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 for Omicron when compared to ≥25 weeks post second vaccine dose.”
Earlier this week, Dr. Fauci said in an interview that the U.S. government should consider a vaccine mandate for domestic flights, both to encourage more vaccination and to make air travel safer. The Biden Administration, at least so far, has not expressed support for the idea.
"When you make vaccination a requirement, that’s another incentive to get more people vaccinated," Fauci said in the MSNBC interview. "If you want to do that with domestic flights, I think that’s something that seriously should be considered.”
According to Fox News, the administration is worried about both the logistical and legal ramifications of a vaccine mandate for flights. Such an action would likely face immediate legal challenges.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked this week about the possibility of such a mandate, answered that “putting in place that additional restriction might delay flights, might have additional implications.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.