Americans have high enough immunity to ward off the threat posed by the BA.2 Omicron COVID-19 variant to some extent, according to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The high level of immunity in the population from vaccines, boosters, and previous infection will provide some level of protection against BA.2,” Walensky said during a press briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on April 5.
“Looking across the country, we see that 95 percent of counties are reporting low COVID-19 community levels, which represent over 97 percent of the U.S. population,” she said.
Health officials said BA.2 is estimated to account for 72 percent of all circulating COVID-19 variants in the country. All regions of the United States have reported the strain to be the dominant variant, the CDC director said. At the beginning of February 2022, BA.2 only made up around one percent of COVID-19 variants in the United States.
Although Walensky said there’s no evidence that BA.2 causes more severe disease and evades immune protection compared to the BA.1 strain, it “does appear to be more transmissible,” she added.
The seven-day daily average of cases, as of April 5, was roughly 25,000 per day, which is lower by four percent compared to the previous week, the CDC director stated.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions was about 14,000 per day, a weekly decrease of 17 percent. Seven-day average daily deaths were about 570 per day, almost 16 percent lower compared to the previous week.
Walensky’s comments come a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second booster shot of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for all adults 50 years or older.
Overall, this is the fourth COVID-19 shot approved for public use by the agency. Dr. Peter Marks, head of the FDA center that oversees vaccines, told reporters on March 29 that “an additional booster” might be required for some people in the fall season.
During the press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the lead members of the COVID-19 response team, justified the fourth booster shot, saying that multiple studies prove that these vaccinations protect against “serious illness, hospitalizations, and even death.” The second booster shot “can restore vaccine effectiveness for certain populations,” he said.
However, the increasing use of COVID-19 vaccines has attracted criticism and raised health concerns. Marco Cavaleri, the European Medicines Agency’s head of vaccines strategy, stated in January 2022 that the agency was worried about quick repeat vaccinations.
An additional vaccine booster shot “could be considered as part of a contingency plan,” but “repeated vaccinations within short intervals will not represent a sustainable long-term strategy,” he said in a media briefing.
In February 2022, it was reported that individuals who recovered from COVID-19 had protection against the infection for 20 months after being infected, indicating that natural immunity is long lasting.