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The former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said that there was no indication that the new Omicron variant of COVID causes more severe illness.
Dr Scott Gottlieb spoke with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday to discuss new developments of the variant which was first detected in South Africa in late November.
Despite being considered more transmissible, Gottlieb made an effort to ease fears surrounding Omicron based on the low number of hospitalizations of patients infected with the new variant.
‘There’s no indication that it causes more severe illness,’ he told network host Margaret Brennan. ‘What we’ve seen in South Africa in particular, is a decoupling between the cases and hospitalizations,’ meaning those infected are less likely to need professional medical treatment.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday that there is no indication the new Omicron variant is a more severe illness
Gottlieb spoke with CBS Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan about the new developments with the Omicron variant
Gottlieb also added that the hospitalization rate was down 30 percent in South Africa relative to cases with more severe admissions linked to past waves down 80 percent.
He also attributed low severity of the illness to the immunity level of populations in both the US and South Africa.
‘Probably around 80 percent of Americans and 90 percent of South Africans have some level of immunity, either from prior infection or through vaccination,’ he added.
‘So even though we’re still getting infected because this is spreading through immune evasion, it’s spreading by evading the immune- immunity that we’ve acquired.’
South Africa announced on Friday that hospital admission rates had lowered since the Omicron variant surfaced on November 25.
About 7,600 people with COVID are seeking treatment in the country’s hospitals with the current excess death rate measured at below 2,000 a week.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, more than 90 percent of hospital deaths were among the unvaccinated.
In the US, a total of 45 states have reported at least one case of the new variant amid the surge of COVID cases prior to the upcoming holiday season.
Scientists including White House COVID tsar Dr Anthony Fauci have also highlighted preliminary data showing Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness, although they’ve urged people to remain cautious while more evidence is collected.
Since the start of December, both U.S. COVID cases and deaths have risen about 50 percent and the number of hospitalized COVID patients climbed 26 percent, according to a Reuters tally.
The presence of the new Omicron variant has so far been identified in 830 cases across the country.
During the interview, Brennan noted that Americans feared another lockdown or stricter guidelines may be in order due to the new variant and surge of cases.
‘Well, look, I think people are really tired of living diminished lives from COVID generally, and you’re seeing that in terms of what people are doing, they’re re-engaging activity that we know are going to be conducive to the spread of this virus,’ he responded. ‘Omicron really has thrown a curveball here.’
Gottlieb added that extra precautions needed to be taken such as receiving a COVID test, wearing masks and getting the booster shot.
He said, however, that the new variant is ‘moving very fast’ in other nations and that we may ‘face a hard four to six weeks’ in the near future.