Omicron Covid variant poses greater risk for the unvaccinated, former White House advisor says

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The new omicron Covid variant poses a greater risk for the unvaccinated and there’s reason to believe that current vaccines are going to be “quite effective,” a former White House advisor said Monday.

“What we know for sure is that it is a dangerous variant for people who have not been vaccinated,” Andy Slavitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

“What we have to get to learn is whether or not omicron — how it spreads in an environment where delta is strong,” he said.

Slavitt previously served as a senior advisor on President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response team and ran the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the Obama administration.

What we know about omicron

Delta, the variant that was first detected in India, is still responsible for most of the current Covid infections, according to the World Health Organization.

The omicron strain was first identified by South African scientists and it has been detected in several countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.

Health experts are concerned about the omicron variant’s transmissibility given its unusual constellation of mutations and profile that differs from previous variants of concern. Scientists are also trying to figure out how effective current vaccines are in protecting people against any severe illness due to the new strain.

“I think we have good reason to believe that the vaccines are effective, if not as effective, and that with boosters, they’ll be quite effective,” Slavitt told CNBC. “But pharma’s also going back to the drawing board.”

Covid vaccine makers PfizerBioNTechModernaJohnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca said they are investigating and testing the omicron variant.

Slavitt said it is possible that there would be updated vaccines available, if needed, in the next several months, before the omicron variant starts to spread meaningfully.

But the main problem that the world currently faces is vaccine inequity. Information compiled by Our World In Data showed just around 44% of the world population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. But only a small percentage of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

Slavitt explained that it is still too early to tell how omicron will fare compared with the lethal delta strain.

“We get to a point when we have a variant that replaces delta that is not serious or can be easily treated with medication, then that’ll be a very new day for this pandemic. We can knock on wood that happens now, if it’s not with omicron, it’ll may be the next one,” he said, adding that such a scenario could potentially turn Covid more akin to the common cold.

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