Dec 29, 2021 - Health

Fauci: Data suggests Omicron less severe than Delta

Dr. Anthony Fauci waits for President Biden to arrive for a video call on December 27, 2021 in Washington, DC
Anthony Fauci waits for President Biden to arrive for a video call on COVID-19 response at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that "all indications point to a lesser severity of Omicron versus Delta," citing preliminary data during a White House COVID-19 briefing.

Driving the news: Fauci cited a working paper from the University of Edinburgh that suggests Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization compared to Delta, among other research.

  • Fauci added that the "final conclusion about the level of severity in children remains to be determined," and warned that there will be more hospitalizations among children due to the rising number of infections.
  • "It is noteworthy, however, that many children are hospitalized with COVID as opposed to because of COVID, reflecting the high degree of penetrance of infection among the pediatric population," Fauci said.

What he's saying: Fauci cautioned that "it is difficult to determine what degree of lessened severity is due to pre-existing immunity or the intrinsically lower virulence of Omicron ... or a combination of both."

  • "We should not become complacent, since our hospital system could still be stressed in certain areas of the country," Fauci said.
  • "And so to repeat what we say so often and it deserves reemphasis, the risk of severe disease from any circulating variant, including Omicron, is much, much higher for the unvaccinated. And so, adults and children who are eligible, get vaccinated and vaccinated people, get boosted when eligible."

The big picture: Fauci's remarks come as COVID-19 cases are surging rapidly across the nation, largely due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

  • The current seven-day daily average is about 240,400 cases per day, about 60% higher than the previous week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday.
  • The seven day-average of hospitalizations is about 9,000 per day, a 14% increase over the previous week, which "could be due to the fact that hospitalizations tend to lag behind cases by about two weeks, but may also be due to early indications ... of milder disease from Omicron, especially among the vaccinated," Walensky said.

Go deeper: Top health officials defend CDC's change to COVID isolation period

Go deeper