The unvaccinated are facing a “winter of severe illness and death,” President Joe Biden has warned, and hospitals will be overwhelmed, as the omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads rapidly across the U.S.
Speaking at a White House briefing on Thursday, Biden said omicron is “here now and it’s spreading and it’s gonna increase.”
The World Health Organization said this week that omicron is clearly more transmissible, reduces the efficacy of vaccines in protecting against infection and raises the risk of reinfection, but for now, there is not enough data to be certain that it’s more deadly than other variants.
Biden reiterated the message from health experts that vaccinated Americans, and especially those who have had a booster shot, are protected from severe illness and death, as he urged unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.
“We are looking at a winter of severe illness and death for the unvaccinated — for themselves, their families and the hospitals they’ll soon overwhelm,” he said.
His comments come as the U.S. continues to suffer about 1,300 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, and cases are averaging more than 124,000, up 31% from two weeks ago.
New Hampshire and Rhode Island are leading the nation by new cases, measured on a per capita basis, while hospitals in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio have the highest rates of COVID patients.
For now, delta remains the dominant variant in the U.S. but there are fears that it will be overtaken by omicron, and scientists are working to understand more about it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that of the roughly 203 million people living in the U.S. that are fully vaccinated, 56.1 million have received a booster dose.
A CDC advisory panel ended a Thursday meeting by recommending that Americans be given the Pfizer PFE, -2.51% or Moderna MRNA, +3.42% vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -2.23% shot that can cause rare but serious blood clots, the Associated Press reported. The strange clotting problem has caused nine confirmed deaths after J&J vaccinations, while the Pfizer and Moderna ones also seem more effective, the panel said.
The condition is more likely to occur in women than men, at a rate of about 7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old, according to the CDC. The committee is tasked with making recommendations about vaccines for the general public.
Elsewhere, omicron continues to cause havoc in Europe, where it is fast becoming dominant, creating record numbers of new cases in the UK and Denmark this week. Denmark on Friday said it was closing down cinemas, theaters and concern halls after counting more than 11,000 cases in a 24-hour period, AFP reported.
Omicron is now dominant in Scotland and one in 50 people living in London had COVID last week and one in 60 people living in England was positive, according to the Office for National Statistics. The UK hit a record 88,376 positive cases on Thursday, according to government data, the most since any time during the pandemic.
German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned Friday that omicron will create a “massive fifth wave” of the pandemic, Reuters reported. The former epidemiology professor, who is known for his bearish COVID-19 forecasts, said Germany should brace for a challenge “that we have never seen in this form before.”
Omicron could account for 80% of all new COVID cases in Portugal by the end of the month, the Guardian reported, citing Health Minister Marta Temido.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is effective against omicron, Reuters reported, citing the RIA News agency.
A growing number of studies indicate Omicron is more resistant to current vaccines than previous Covid variants, though boosters seem to help. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez gets an exclusive look inside a lab testing how antibodies interact with Omicron. Photo illustration: Tom Grillo
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 273.1 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 5.34 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with 50.5 million cases and 803,765 deaths.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.7 million and has suffered 476,869 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 617,271 and 22.2 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 289,292 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 147,396.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 112,661 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.