WASHINGTON - Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, repeated a stark warning this week that the omicron variant will likely infect most Americans, but he noted how those who are fully vaccinated and boosted face a much lower risk of getting seriously ill.
"Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will, ultimately, find just about everybody," Fauci told the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an interview published on Tuesday.
"Those who have been vaccinated, and vaccinated and boosted, would get exposed. Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death," he continued.
His comments echoed a similar remark from Janet Woodcock, the acting head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who told Congress this week that the highly transmissible omicron strain will infect "most people." Woodcock also stressed that the focus should turn to ensure that critical services can continue uninterrupted.
"I think it’s hard to process what’s actually happening right now, which is: Most people are going to get COVID, all right?" Woodcock said during a hearing. "What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function — transportation, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens."
Fauci, who also serves as the president’s chief medical adviser, was later asked about Woodcock’s remarks and emphasized how COVID-19 will never be eradicated. But with the shots, the risk of hospitalization and death greatly decreases.
"What she was referring to is that virtually everybody is going to wind up getting exposed and likely get infected. But if you’re vaccinated and if you’re boosted, the chances of you getting sick are very, very low," Fauci said Wednesday.
FILE - Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the NIAID, speaks at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Jan. 11, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Im
"So, if we’re going to look ahead at what happens when this peaks and it ultimately goes down... we’re not going to eradicate this," he stressed, adding that "we will ultimately control it."
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced this week that the U.S. government would double the commitment of free, at-home COVID-19 tests being made available to Americans, increasing the number to a total of 1 billion kits. It’s also planning to make high-quality N95 masks available at no charge.
Trend of deliberately catching omicron is ‘never a good idea’
With the consideration that being exposed to, or contracting COVID-19, is becoming more likely, some health experts have noticed a growing trend of people purposely trying to catch the virus in order to "get it over with."
Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told CNN recently that the idea has become "all the rage." But according to healthcare professionals, this is not advised.
"It’s never a good idea to intentionally get infected with an infectious disease," said Dr. Amber D’Souza, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Why intentionally roll the dice?"
While it’s true that catching the omicron variant of COVID-19, as opposed to the delta variant, could result in a lower likelihood of severe illness or hospitalization, D’Souza said it’s still very risky, even if you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
"For many people who are vaccinated — if you get exposed to coronavirus — you may not be that ill, [or] you may have flu-like symptoms, but you may have worse, and you can transmit that infection to other people who may have severe symptoms," D’Souza told FOX Television Stations Group. "Intentionally getting infected, even if you’ve been vaccinated — you can still feel really ill."
Getting infected also means potentially putting more stress on an overwhelmed healthcare system. Nearly 23% of hospitals throughout the U.S. reported critical staffing shortages on Tuesday as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, according to data released by the Department of Human and Health Services.
Out of 4,294 hospitals that reported to the HHS, 975 said they didn't have enough nurses and doctors."With this surge, risk of infection is higher than it’s ever been," D’Souza continued. "Right now, hospitals are really overwhelmed."
Meanwhile, the infection could also lead to long-term, commonly known as "long haul," symptoms — despite mild infection.
The CDC notes some people experience a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, fatigue, brain fog, cough, chest or stomach pains, headache, heart palpitations and muscle pains, can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even if the illness was mild, or if they had no initial symptoms.
While data about the omicron variant is still fairly limited, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew conclusions about long-term effects from COVID-19 last year. A survey that consisted of data from 3,135 adults who had been tested for COVID-19 since January 2020, found 65.9% of respondents who tested positive for the virus experienced symptoms that lasted four weeks or longer.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. Stephanie Weaver contributed.