Long-haul symptoms from COVID-19 infection are still possible even for people who contract a milder case of the omicron variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with Spectrum News on Wednesday.
The president’s chief medical adviser spoke to Spectrum News as COVID-19 cases increased by 60% from the week before, also predicting the terminology around being vaccinated would soon evolve, reflecting the need for a booster to be optimally protected from the changing virus.
“Long COVID can happen no matter what virus variant occurs,” Dr. Fauci said. “There's no evidence that there's any difference between delta or beta or now omicron.”
“We should always be aware that when people get symptomatic infection … anywhere from 10 to up to 30 plus percent of people will go on to have persistence of symptoms,” he added, noting that even mild cases are included in that possibility.
Long-term symptoms usually include shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, insomnia and brain fog.
It is still too early to affirm how severe omicron is, top health officials say, though recent data from South Africa and the United Kingdom point to it being milder than the previous delta variant.
Dr. Fauci also told Spectrum News that the words used to define vaccination status could soon change.
He said the label will likely evolve from “fully vaccinated” to “up to date,” to identify when someone has been boosted, which Fauci called critical for protection against the virus.
“People should put aside this concern about a definition and say ‘If I want to be optimally protected, I should get boosted,’” he said.
Dr. Fauci, who has served as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for more than 35 years, also reflected on his hope for 2022, which includes reaching a vaccination rate high enough to drive down COVID infections once and for all.
“I'm hoping that more people who are being recalcitrant about getting vaccinated wind up getting vaccinated, so we can have a uniform blanket of protection over the country,” he said.
That blanket of protection, Fauci explained, could help the United States diminish COVID-19 to “such a low level that it doesn't interfere with our function as a society.”
“I'm always cautiously optimistic,” Fauci said. “But I'm quite realistic. We need to do better with regard to vaccinations.”
And he urged Americans to protect themselves as strongly as possible, even when a COVID test or an N95 mask may not be accessible.
“I would rather have someone wear a cloth mask or a surgical mask rather than no mask at all,” he said, later adding: “It's preferable to get tested. But, you know, you have to deal with what you have. If tests are not available and you are vaccinated and boosted, the risk is very low.”