While Delta is still dominating, a new variant of COVID has caused panic across the globe. Omicron has been detected in at least 38 countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), who labeled it a "variant of concern" in less than a week. This means that the new variant could be more transmissible than previous variants and evade existing vaccines, but virus experts have warned that they still need a few weeks to determine exactly what course the Omicron variant is going to take. Despite this, rising cases have allowed officials to get more anecdotal information on vaccinated people who are getting hit with this new iteration of the virus.
During a Dec. 3 interview on ABC's Good Morning America, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, discussed the Omicron cases that the U.S. is currently seeing. According to Walensky, the variant has been found in five states now: California, New York, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado.
Per Reuters, Hawaii has reported an Omicron case with an unvaccinated individual who has experienced moderate symptoms. But the cases in California, Colorado, and Minnesota were found among patients who were fully vaccinated and have only developed mild symptoms. Overall, Walensky said that vaccinated people are mostly getting hit with mild cases of Omicron.
"What we can say, based on what these cases are showing, some have mild disease, some may have more severe disease, many of them are vaccinated, and what we're seeing now is that many of the people with mild disease were the vaccinated people," she explained.
So far, this anecdotal data follows what's being seen in other countries. The first Israeli individual to contract the Omicron variant was a triple vaccinated cardiologist from Tel Aviv who experienced a fever, sore throat, and aching muscles. "If I didn't have the vaccine, I probably would have ended up in the hospital," Elad Maor, MD, told The New York Times.
Another doctor in South Africa, Mvuyisi Mzukwa, the vice chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), told CNN on Dec. 1 that he is seeing milder cases with the Omicron variant as well.
"We're seeing younger patients and we're seeing milder cases of Omicron," Mzukwa told CNN's Brianna Keilar on New Day. "We have not seen that much of hospitalization, all we see is that those patients that do get admitted are patients who are not vaccinated … about 90 percent of those are unvaccinated."
During her ABC interview, Walensky noted that most of the COVID infections in the U.S. right now are still the Delta variant. Some experts have predicted that the new variant will take over the world in three to six months, but others have said they don't believe Omicron will bypass Delta at all. Only time will tell, as more data and research need to be collected about the new variant—including how it might affect our existing vaccines.
"We still have a lot of science to do to understand how these vaccines are working against Omicron, except to say that we know for every variant that we've had, it's better to be vaccinated than unvaccinated," Walensky said.