Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to the U.S. president, said it’s too soon to say whether the omicron variant will herald a shift in the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic.
“It’s an open question as to whether or not omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination everyone is hoping for,” Fauci said Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference. Other scientists and government officials have expressed optimism that omicron’s rapid spread and milder outcomes could signal an eventual shift to learning to live with the virus, much like the world does with seasonal flu. Pfizer’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla told French newspaper Le Figaro that life could soon return to normal.
Omicron is so contagious that the sheer volume of infections can override its lower severity and strain hospitals, according to Fauci. At the same time, he noted that it’s important to focus on fighting the overarching pandemic rather than reacting to every new variant, which is why research efforts should be on vaccines that can give broad protection across mutations.
“We don’t want to get into a whack-a-mole for every variant, where you have to make a booster against a particular variant,” said Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases. “You’ll be chasing it forever.”
“That’s the reason why what we’re all pushing for is finding out what the mechanisms are that induces a response to a commonality among all the real and potential variants we’re seeing and that can occur,” he added.
Speaking on the same panel, moderated by Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua, Moderna Inc. Chief Executive Stephane Bancel said he hoped to share data soon with regulators on his company’s omicron-specific vaccine.
“It should be in the clinic in the coming weeks. And we’re hoping in the March time frame we should be able to have data to share with regulators to figure out the next step forward,” he said.
Fauci, 81, said resistance to time-tested public health measures has hindered the fight against COVID-19.
“We have such a degree of pushback against regular, normal, easy-to-understand public health measures,” he said. “A reluctance to wear masks, to promote vaccination, to the kinds of measures we know if we all pull together as a society we’d be much, much better off.”
Still, there are plenty of reasons for optimism amid advances in treatments and vaccines as well as improved public health communications and preparedness for future outbreaks, Annelies Wilder-Smith, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the panel.
“Travel will resume,” she said. “I think we will have a better summer.”