White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that just about everyone in the U.S. will likely be exposed to the omicron variant at some point in the near future.
"I think, in many respects, omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will, ultimately, find just about everybody," Fauci told the Center for Strategic & International Studies on Tuesday.
However, Fauci noted that while omicron has been shown to evade vaccines at a higher rate than past variants, those who are vaccinated and have gotten a booster shot still have ample protection from the virus.
"Those who have been vaccinated and vaccinated and boosted would get exposed," Fauci said. "Some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected but will very likely, with some exceptions, do reasonably well in the sense of not having hospitalization and death."
Fauci's comments come as hospitalizations are nearing record levels across the country. He added that while omicron more than likely causes less severe disease than past strains, the number of cases it's causing is leading some health systems to be overrun.
"Unfortunately, those who are still unvaccinated are going to get the brunt of the severe aspect of this, and although it is less severe on a case by case basis, when you quantitatively have so many people who are infected, a fraction of them, even if it's a small fraction, are going to get seriously ill and are going to die, and that's the reason why it will challenge our health system," Fauci said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the omicron variant has led to a record number of infections in recent days. On Monday alone, the U.S. recorded 1.2 million positive tests, and the seven-day average is at an all-time high of 800,000.
The CDC says 25% of Americans — including children under five, who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated — still have not gotten a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That accounts for about 83 million people, according to a population estimate from the Census Bureau.