A staffer carries coronavirus test kits at a site at Balboa Sports Center in Encino last year. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

White House warns of January virus surge, says boosters protect against Omicron variant

As the CDC warns a winter COVID-19 surge is on its way, the White House urges vaccinations and booster shots to protect against the Omicron variant.

Cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus are expected to rise next month after families gather for the holidays, White House officials said Wednesday, citing new data that suggests the variant is highly transmissible but can be blunted by vaccine booster shots.

While Omicron is responsible for just 3% of all COVID-19 cases around the country — a majority are caused by the Delta variant — health officials expect its share of infections to grow in coming weeks, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s because the latest statistics show that Omicron cases double about every two days, Walensky said during a White House briefing for reporters on COVID-19.

Walensky implored eligible Americans to get vaccinated and booster shots.

“Vaccination, boosting and masking are especially critical for those who are most vulnerable,” she said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, highlighted data that shows two-dose vaccines were not as effective against Omicron as they were against previous variants. But, he said, booster shots held up well against the variant and that scientists would not need to create an Omicron-specific booster, just yet.

“The message remains clear,” said Fauci, who also serves as the White House’s chief medical advisor. “If you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of Omicron, if you are fully vaccinated, get boosted.”

The United States is currently averaging 117,900 new coronavirus cases a day, and the country this week recorded its 800,000th death from COVID-19, White House officials said.

Seventy-two percent of all Americans have received at least one shot while just 61% are fully vaccinated, according to federal statistics. Just 27% of fully vaccinated Americans have received booster shots.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.