Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said Monday that it’s too soon to tell whether the omicron variant of the coronavirus will bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During a virtual panel Monday at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda online conference, Fauci was asked whether 2022 will be the year Covid-19 turns endemic — meaning the virus will continue to circulate but at lower, more predictable levels — and whether the omicron variant might speed up the process given its high transmissibility.
“It is an open question as to whether or not omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for, because you have such a great deal of variability with new variants emerging,” Fauci replied.
“I would hope that that’s the case. But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant,” he said.
Fauci said Covid endemicity would mean the virus “is present at a level that does not disrupt society.”
“And I think that’s what most people see when they talk about endemicity, where it is integrated into the broad range of infectious diseases that we experience. For example: the cold weather upper-respiratory infections, the para-influenzas, the respiratory syncytial viruses, the rhinoviruses,” he said. “You want to get it at a level that doesn’t disrupt society.”
As for a timeline for when Covid will become endemic, Fauci said, “the answer is we do not know that.”
The omicron variant has ripped through the U.S. this winter, with case numbers still rising in some states. Community transmission remains high across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the last two weeks, Covid hospitalizations have by increased 54 percent, with Covid intensive care hospitalizations up by 34 percent. Medical facilities are struggling to keep up with the increase in patients.
As of Monday, the seven-day average of new cases was 701,054, according to NBC News’ tally. Eight states — Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin — hit record case numbers Monday.
Fauci said he considers a pandemic to have phases, starting with the “truly pandemic” phase, in which “the whole world is really negatively impacted as we are right now.” That’s followed by deceleration, control and elimination.
The ideal final step would be eradication, he said, but mankind has eradicated only one disease: smallpox.
“That’s not going to happen with this virus,” Fauci said.