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ATLANTA, Dec 9, (AP): More than 40 people in the U.S. have been found to be infected with the omicron variant so far, and more than three-quarters of them had been vaccinated, the chief of the CDC said Wednesday. But she said nearly all of them were only mildly ill. In an interview with The Associated Press, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data is very limited and the agency is working on a more detailed analysis of what the new mutant form of the coronavirus might hold for the U.S. “What we generally know is the more mutations a variant has, the higher level you need your immunity to be. … We want to make sure we bolster everybody’s immunity. And that’s really what motivated the decision to expand our guidance,” Walensky said, referencing the recent approval of boosters for all adults. She said “the disease is mild” in almost all of the cases seen so far, with reported symptoms mainly cough, congestion and fatigue.
One person was hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported, CDC officials said. Some cases can become increasingly severe as days and weeks pass, and Walensky noted that the data is a very early, first glimpse of U.S. omicron infections. The earliest onset of symptoms of any of the first 40 or so cases was Nov. 15, according to the CDC. The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa last month and has since been reported in 57 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The World Health Organization expressed concerns Thursday that rich countries spooked by the emergence of the omicron variant could step up the hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines and strain global supplies again, complicating efforts to stamp out the pandemic.
The U.N. health agency, after a meeting of its expert panel on vaccination, reiterated its advice to governments against the widespread use of boosters in their populations so that well-stocked countries instead can send doses to low-income countries that have largely lacked access to them. “What is going to shut down disease is for everybody WHO is especially at risk of disease to become vaccinated,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, head of WHO’s department of immunization, vaccines and biologicals. “We seem to be taking our eye off that ball in countries.” Months of short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have begun to ease over the last two months or so, and doses are finally getting to needier countries – such as through donations and the U.N.-backed COVAX program – and WHO wants that to continue. It has long decried “vaccine inequity” by which most doses have gone to people in rich countries, WHOse leaders locked down big stockpiles as a precautionary measure. “As we head into whatever the omicron situation is going to be, there is risk that the global supply is again going to revert to high-income countries hoarding vaccine to protect – in a sense, in excess – their opportunity for vaccination, and a sort of ‘noregrets’ kind of approach,” O’Brien said. “It’s not going to work,” she added. “It’s not going to work from an epidemiological perspective, and it’s not going to work from a transmission perspective unless we actually have vaccine going to all countries, because where transmission continues, that’s where the variants are going to come from.”