Dismissing as “absurd” a Republican senator’s claim that he “overestimates” Covid-19 as he did for HIV and AIDS, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the threat to the United States of the Omicron variant remained to be determined – but that signs from South Africa, where the variant emerged, were encouraging.
“It’s clear that in South Africa Omicron has a transmission advantage,” Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union, “because… they were at a really low level and then they had almost a vertical point towards the top. top, which is almost exclusively Omicron.
“So far – although it’s too early to really make definitive statements on this – it doesn’t appear to be a great degree of severity.
“But we really have to be careful before making decisions that [Omicron] is less serious or does not actually cause any serious illness comparable to Delta. But, so far, the signals are a little encouraging regarding gravity. But, again, you have to judge until we have more experience.
Fauci’s obvious caution was at odds with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s bizarre and cavalier accusation.
Speaking to Fox News host Brian Kilmeade this week, the Republican said, “Fauci has done the exact same thing with AIDS. He exaggerated it. He created all kinds of fears, claiming it could affect the whole population when it didn’t. And… he uses the exact same playbook for Covid. “
Fauci, 80, has been the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or Niaid, since 1984, serving seven presidents. His work on AIDS and HIV won him the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the hands of George W Bush.
In an interview with The Guardian last year, Fauci said, “My career and my identity have really been defined by HIV. Because I have been in a very unique position to now be one of the very, very few people who have been there from day one.
H Clifford Lane, a longtime MP for Fauci, said: “There are so many ways the experience of HIV / AIDS has helped him prepare for what he is facing now. A brand new disease, no cure, no cure.
But Johnson’s attack was simply part of a round of abuse by Republicans and right-wingers who in one case went so far as to compare Fauci to Josef Mengele, the “angel of the death ”Nazi.
Asked about Johnson, Fauci said, “How do you react to something as absurd as this? Over-media coverage of aid? He has killed more than 750,000 Americans and 36 million people around the world. How do you exaggerate that?
“Overhyping Covid? It has already killed 780,000 Americans and more than 5 million people around the world. So, I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Omicron has been detected in 15 US states. Fauci was cautiously optimistic that current vaccines might work against this.
“The vaccines that we are currently distributing in the United States and around the world are directed against the original ancestral strain of Wuhan,” he said. “And yet … we get pretty good protection against Delta [variant] when you are vaccinated, and especially when you receive a booster.
“And that’s why we’re saying, even with a new variant like Omicron, if you’re boosted, you’re going to increase your level, and we’re sure there will be a certain degree, and maybe a degree. Considerable protection against the Omicron variant, if, in fact, it begins to take hold in a dominant manner in this country.
Fauci and other Biden advisers have reiterated that the travel ban on South Africa and other African countries may soon be lifted. They have also sought to reassure a public on edge about what Omicron could mean for the Christmas holidays, as the number of Covid cases rises.
Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy told CBS’s Face the Nation: “The concern and the challenge we have right now in the country is that we have millions of people who are still unvaccinated, which poses a risk to their life but also poses an increased risk of transmission.
“But if you do like many families, you get vaccinated and boosted, you use the tests wisely before you gather, you congregate in well-ventilated spaces, and use masks whenever you can in indoor public spaces. , your risk can be quite low and your vacation can be very rewarding. This is what so many families experienced this past Thanksgiving.
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Fauci boss, director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr Francis Collins, said more variations were possible after Omicron. He also said the best thing Americans could do would be to stop being “a little careless” about precautions like vaccinations, reminders and mask wear, especially during the holidays.
On ABC’s This Week show, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Food and Drug Administration was “already in discussions about streamlining the authorization of a specific vaccine for Omicron. , in part because much of the vaccine is actually exactly the same, and in reality it would just be this mRNA code that would have to change.
“So these conversations are ongoing, and certainly the FDA will act quickly and the CDC will act quickly afterwards. “