Fauci says it’s still an ‘open question’ whether omicron spells Covid endgame

Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the NIAID, responds to questions from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday it is still too soon to predict whether the omicron Covid-19 variant will mark the final wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is an open question whether it will be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for,” Fauci said via videoconference at The Davos Agenda virtual event.

The omicron variant, while highly transmissible, has been found to be less severe than previous variants, sparking hope that it could hasten the end of the pandemic. Yet, Fauci said there is still no guarantee.

“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.

Still, even if omicron does emerge as the final variant of Covid-19, it is unlikely that it would mean endgame for the virus entirely, Fauci said. Rather, it will remain present in society at an endemic level.

“Control means you have it present but it is present at a level that does not disrupt society,” Fauci said. “That’s my definition of what endemicity would mean.”

At that stage, public health measures such as mask-wearing would no longer be required, and society could return to some level of pre-Covid normality, he said.

“It’s not going to be that you’ll eliminate this disease completely. But hopefully, it will be at such a low level that it doesn’t disrupt our normal social, economic and other interactions with each other. To me, that’s what the new normal is.”

‘Too early’ to call Covid endemic

Fauci was speaking alongside a panel of public health experts who agreed that omicron will likely become the dominant strain of Covid-19 globally in 2022. However, they were divided on whether it would be the final strain.

“It is indeed too early really to call it endemic. There is a high probability that we will have a new variant,” said Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

A new variant is likely to be less severe, looking at previous versions, but it remains important to prepare for the worst, she said.

Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations, was more optimistic, however.

“Omicron will sweep the world. It may hopefully sweep out other variants,” he said, adding that the virus will likely reach a point of equilibrium, where it becomes an annual epidemic, much like the seasonal flu.”

— Don’t miss Geoff Cutmore’s discussion with ECB President Christine Lagarde, Brazilian Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, IMF MD Kristalina Georgieva and India’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati at 7.30 a.m. ET Friday. They’ll be discussing the “Global Economic Outlook” at the Davos Agenda. You can watch live here.