Emerging Omicron Variant Has Health Officials Urging World Vaccination

The United States now has an average of over 130,000 new citizens each year, thanks to the Omicron variant, which is highly transmissible. COVID-19 new cases are reported each day. Health officials warn that the U.S. could be seeing a million new cases per day by February. We speak with Dr. Carlos del Rio who is a health expert and says that booster shots along with vaccination are the best way to prevent severe illness. “Everybody’s going to get infected. You’re going to be exposed to this virus because it’s essentially going to be everywhere,” says del Rio.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is preparing to address the nation Tuesday about the government’s efforts to combat the COVIDThe -19 Omicron variant is rapidly spreading throughout the United States and around the globe. The U.S. has now seen over 130,000 new cases. COVID Nearly double the number of cases per day than a month ago. New York state has created a daily COVID Each of the last three days records. Outgoing NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins warned that the nation could be seeing a million new cases per day by February.

Many schools have had to stop in-person classes because of the new surge. Also, many professional sporting and entertainment events were postponed or cancelled due to this. Long lines for COVID Before the weekend, tests were taken in many areas of the country.

Despite the new surge in Omicron variants, scientists are hopeful that the Omicron variant will be less dangerous than the Delta variant. This is especially true for individuals who have had booster shots.

Moderna today announced that its own internal tests have shown that its vaccine booster significantly increases the antibody levels against Omicron variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. He said that Omicron was raging across the globe.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: The one thing that’s very clear, and there’s no doubt about this, is its extraordinary capability of spreading, its transmissibility capability. It is raging throughout the globe, really. You can see that there are some areas in the United States that started with only a small percentage of positive isolates. Now, it is up to 40%, sometimes even 50%. It is not clear if it is more severe or less severe. The information we’re getting from our South African colleagues still suggests that when you look at it totally, the hospitalization-to-case ratio is less than with Delta. There seems to be less durability in symptomatology and less need for oxygen. But you’ve got to be careful. That might be due really to the fact that their population has so much experience with prior infections that it might be underlying immunity that’s making it look like it’s less severe.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Atlanta, Georgia, where we’re joined by Dr. Carlos del Rio, distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology and global health at Emory University, also the international secretary of the National Academy of Medicine and the former executive director of the National AIDS Council of Mexico.

We are happy to welcome you. Democracy Now!, Dr. del Rio. Why don’t you start off by explaining what Omicron is, how serious it is for this country and around the world, and this issue of its incredible infectiousness, but, on the other hand, whether in fact it makes people as sick as the Delta variant?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO: Good morning. Let me first say that this has been an awful pandemic. We’re now into our second year, we’re going to be starting our third year, and there really appears to be no end in sight. We have been thrown a number of unexpected, I would say, curveballs by this virus at every stage of the process.

We developed vaccines. The vaccines were first developed to combat the Wuhan strain. Over the course of the pandemic we have seen many strains evolve, some quite serious. First, the Alpha strain, then the Delta strain, and now the Omicron. The Delta strain continues to be a problem in the United States and globally. The Delta strain continues to be a major problem in the United States. But we’re seeing the Omicron strain emerge and becoming the dominant variant in the next several weeks.

What is the cause? Well, this virus is a respiratory virus, and it’s an RNA virus that, as it reproduces, as it’s multiplying, is producing mistakes. And some of those mistakes, those mutations, benefit the virus, and others don’t. We are most concerned about mutations that increase transmissibility, increase clinical severity, or increase immune evasiveness. The virus’s ability to evade our immune systems, either through vaccine-induced immunity or prior infection. If a virus exhibits some of these characteristics, it is called the WHO It is called a variant of concern.

Omicron is the most recent concern. And what Omicron has, it appears to be — we’re learning. You know, we’re still learning. It appears to be more transmissible than Delta. Delta was already more transmissible that the original strain. The original strain had a reproduction number of 2.5 to 3. This means that one person could infect two-and a half or three people, and each one will infect two or three more. If you did that ten times and it was done in an immune population, there would be a little more than 9,000 people infected. Delta has an R naught between six and eight, according to our research. One person can infect six people; each one infects six. If you put that into a naive population, after 10 cycles of transmission, you’d have 30 million people infected.

Omicron is two to three times more transmissible that Delta, so Omicron would be in the vicinity of measles. Omicron has an R naught between 15 and 18. With an R naught between 15 and 18, everyone is going to be infected. You’re going to be exposed to this virus because it’s essentially going to be everywhere. And if you’re going to be exposed to this virus at this point in time, you’re better off if you’ve been vaccinated and if you’ve been boosted than if you’re not, because if you haven’t been vaccinated, if you haven’t been boosted, you will get infected. Even if you’ve been vaccinated, you have a chance of getting infected.

As far as clinical severity, I will just say that I agree with Dr. Fauci: It’s too early to talk about whether it’s more severe or less severe. But even if it’s less severe, if the numbers are really, really high, we still may see a lot of people in the hospital, simply because it’s a numbers issue, right?

AMY GOODMAN: You have the South Africa numbers, and many are saying perhaps they’re saying it’s less severe there because it’s a much younger population, and Britain is reporting something different. But I wanted to ask you about — on television, on all the networks, you know, you have the experts repeating what has to be done here — the basics. You’ve got to test. You’ve got to vax. You’ve got to wear a mask, socially distance and be extremely careful. But what’s not added to that list, repeatedly, is this issue of vaccinating the world. What has Omicron taught us about — it’s not just a matter of altruism that you want people to be as safe as perhaps people are in the United States, though many who are unvaccinated are not safe, but that if someone is unsafe somewhere, you are unsafe here?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO: Well, I think we’ve seen this over and over. The variants — Omicron emerged probably in South Africa. India saw the emergence of Delta. In areas of the world with low vaccination rate and high transmission, you’re going to see these variants emerge.

I think you have the right word. It is “vaccinating” the world, not giving vaccines. If we get vaccines to countries but we don’t, you know, develop, don’t have the infrastructure to get vaccines into people, you will then not have vaccination. We must do a better job.

I’m surprised that up to now there’s still not national and international leadership to make this happen. We need someone to make this happen at the global level. And we need coordination, because, you know, they — initially what’s set up was something called COVAX, COVAX essentially has failed, and it has failed because there hasn’t been support from the different nations, the different organizations. We continue to treat global vaccination as charity: “Well, we have these vaccines left over. We’re going to send them.”

You know, most recently we sent a bunch of vaccines, Johnson & Johnson vaccines, to Haiti, and we were very proud of that. We did it, and the State Department made an announcement about it. It was done on the same day as the CDC said Johnson & Johnson is not a good vaccine. You know, at the end of the day, we’re contradicting ourselves, and our foreign policy on vaccines is not aligning with what the reality is and what needs to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: An analysis Published Sunday by Financial Times Found that wealthy countries have given more COVID Boosters are more than the total doses given in poorer countries. According to the countries, as defined by the World Bank, where it’s just under 11 shots per 100 people by any doses had been given to low-income countries, something like nearly 16 booster doses per 100 people were administered across the world’s 59 high-income countries, Dr. del Rio.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely true. I mean, I believe that vaccination is a major factor in the world’s disparities. Rich countries are hoarding vaccines and are boosting and are doing things that, you know, is for their own benefit and the benefit of its citizens, but they’re not — they’re being myopic. They’re not seeing beyond their borders. And when you’re controlling a pandemic, you have to look beyond your borders. This is a global issue. And if we don’t have a global approach, we’re never going to beat this.

AMY GOODMAN: Then there’s the issue of Medicare For All at home. Is this going to make a big difference for future healthcare in this country? This could also be due to the fact that there is so little testing available. I mean, we’re here in New York City. There are lines everywhere for testing. It is possible to get free tests if you have Medicare for All.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO: I think you’re talking about important issues, but I think they’re a little bit separate from each other, right? While Medicare for All may seem like a single issue, it is not a Medicare issue. This is about the government acting in a time of crisis.

Setting up testing sites — you know, we’ve left a lot of things to the market. Rapid tests, for example are still being run by industry and corporations that produce them and want to make a profit. They should have been taken over by the government like we’ve seen in the U.K. and many other places. And basically, rapid tests ought to be available for everybody to go to the drugstore and the supermarket and buy for a reasonable price, not for the price that we’re currently paying. I mean, I bought some rapid tests yesterday to use in my family gathering, and I’m paying $25 for a package of two tests. This is something most people cannot afford. I should have been in a position to get them for $5. But the truth is, the government should have intervened for that to happen.

We did it with vaccines. But imagine if the vaccine approach had been that of the rapid test approach, that the government said, “Well, you know, buy them and then submit a claim to your insurance company to get reimbursed.” Well, imagine if the vaccines had been the same way: “Well, get vaccinated, but you have to pay for it, and then you submit a claim to your insurance company to get reimbursed.” We would have never had the number of people vaccinated that we currently have in this country. The vaccines are — you know, we reached the number of vaccinations we reached in this country because the vaccines are available and are free. And that’s exactly what we needed to happen with rapid tests, but we haven’t done that. And I’m baffled that we haven’t done that.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to Jen Psaki (White House Press Secretary), who has been widely criticized for her comments regarding at-home cooking. COVID All Americans are eligible to take the tests.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: Look at what we’ve done over the course of time. We’ve quadrupled the size of our testing plan. We’ve cut the costs significantly over the past few months. And this effort to — to push — to ensure insurers are — you’re able to get your tests refunded means 150 million Americans will be able to get free tests.

MARA LIASSON: That’s kind of complicated, though. It’s better to give them away and make them free so they are available everywhere.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: Do we need to send one to each American?


PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: Then what — then what happens if you — if every American has one test? How much would that cost? What happens next?

MARA LIASSON: All I know is that they are being made available in larger quantities by other countries for less money.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: We share the same goal, I believe, to make them more affordable and accessible. Each country will do this differently. And I’m just noting that, again, our tests go through the FDA The approval process. That’s not the same process that it — it doesn’t work that way in every single country.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Carlos del Rio, your response?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO: You know, I think, you know, yes, they’ve increased test capacity, but the reality is it’s still not sufficient. It’s admirable that they are making efforts but not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much for being here. Carlos del Rio, Emory University’s distinguished professor of medicine, epidemiology, and global health, is also the international secretary of The National Academy of Medicine.

Coming up, President Biden’s Build Back Better plan appears to be dead, after Democratic Senator Joe Manchin surprises the White House and comes out against the plan to expand the nation’s social safety net and combat the climate crisis. The announcement was made on Fox TV. We’ll speak with one of the six congressmembers who voted against the infrastructure bill, saying, “If we don’t tie it to Build Back Better, Build Back Better will die.” Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “El Rey” by Vicente Fernández. The Mexican singer died recently at the age 81.