Early data about the Omicron coronavirus variant presents "a very strong argument for people getting their boosters," according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"Omicron is going to be a challenge because it spreads very rapidly, and the vaccines that we use — the regular two-dose mRNA — don't do very well against infection itself. But particularly if you get the boost, it is pretty good," Fauci told CNN.
"There is no doubt that the optimal protection is going to be with three doses of an mRNA," Fauci said.
In South Africa, where the variant was first identified, while there is "almost a vertical spike of infection," the country is not seeing severe hospitalizations, Fauci said.
"The real question is, is that an inherent diminution of virulence of the virus or is it because there are so many people in the population who have already been infected and now have residual post-infection immunity — which is not protecting them from getting infected, but is protecting them from getting severe disease?" Fauci said.
"Whatever it is, the disease seems to be less severe. Whether it's inherently less pathogenic as a virus or whether there's more protection in the community, we're just going to have to see when it comes in the United States. And for sure ... it is going to be dominant in the United States, given its doubling time," Fauci said.
Fauci also said that even though it's been one year since vaccines became available in the US, 60 million eligible people still need to get their shots.
"We have got to be doing better than that if we want to get this thing over with," he said.