Fauci Says Americans Don't Need to Change Holiday Plans due to Omicron — If They're Vaccinated
With the new, potentially highly-transmissible COVID-19 variant omicron now in the U.S. and coinciding with the start of the holiday season, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that families can move forward with their celebrations — as long as they're vaccinated.
Speaking at a CNN Global Town Hall on Wednesday, Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, reassured Americans that family gatherings are safe for vaccinated people.
"Just as I said and I'll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, enjoy the holidays with your family in a family setting," he said.
Fauci added, though, that Americans should make sure to get their COVID-19 booster shots as soon as they are eligible. Anyone aged 18 or older who was fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines six months ago or more can get a booster shot, and those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago should get a second dose of any of the three vaccines.
"Get that extra boost now," Fauci said. "The level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine."
There are concerns that the vaccines won't be as effective against the omicron variant, which has the most mutations of any new strain of COVID-19 yet. But so far, omicron has appeared to produce a mild or asymptomatic illness, and researchers are studying the variant and how it performs against the vaccines.
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Fauci said they hope that the vaccines will be effective against omicron, as they were with delta.
"That's where we're hoping we'll see with the omicron variant, that if you get your levels high enough it'll spill over and get cross-protection against that variant," he said.
And on Thursday, President Joe Biden is expected to unveil an updated plan for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic through the winter months, including setting up vaccine clinics where families can all go to get their first shots or boosters, stockpiling the new antiviral pills from Merck and testing requirements for all travelers entering or returning to the United States.
Biden's plan will also require private health insurance companies to reimburse at-home COVID-19 testing kits, as they do with tests performed at pharmacies and clinics.
"We think this is the right policy," Natalie Quillian, the deputy White House COVID response coordinator, told NPR. "We also think it's the most economical policy, because the cost of an individual getting COVID and going to the hospital and seeking those bills is much higher than the cost of any rapid home test."
Additionally, the Biden administration will buy 25 million at-home tests for those without private insurance which will be available at community health centers and clinics in rural areas.