People who recover from infections increase their immunity to the disease, but the White House’s chief medical adviser said the threat of new variants tempers optimism that omicron will help bring about herd immunity in 2022.
“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,” he said on a virtual panel for the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda conference.
“I would hope that that’s the case,” he added. “But that would only be the case if we don’t get another variant that eludes the immune response of the prior variant.”
Bringing the spread of COVID-19 down to endemic levels would mean the virus has a “non-disruptive presence” but isn’t completely eliminated, Fauci said. However, he said the coronavirus has an “extraordinary capability of mutating,” and immunity from exposure and current vaccines wanes over time.
“We’re dealing with a very complicated situation here that makes our classic definition of herd immunity very elusive,” Fauci said.
He contrasted COVID-19 with measles, which “does not really change very much, and gives you almost lifelong immunity” after being infected or vaccinated.
New COVID-19 cases are at an all-time high in the U.S. right now as the highly transmissible but seemingly less deadly omicron strain takes hold. More than 800,000 cases are being reported each day, surpassing all previous surges. Nearly 2,000 daily deaths are currently being reported.