Omicron could fade in ‘weeks,’ former FDA head tells travel industry

 Friday, January 14, 2022 


One of the country’s best-known health experts had some good news Thursday for travellers and the travel industry.

The wave of omicron cases in the U.S. that has disrupted everything from flights to cruises over the past month is likely to fade fast in the coming weeks.

Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told travel agents during a conference call to discuss the future of the COVID-19 pandemic it is peaking right now.

Gottlieb, who spoke with the agents at the invitation of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, suggested the omicron wave could significantly diminish across the U.S. in just weeks.

The way down for the omicron wave looks a lot like the way up.

Gottlieb consults on COVID-19 safety for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which is the parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

He’s also on the board of Pfizer, which makes one of the most-prominent COVID-19 vaccines.

Gottlieb noted the omicron wave wouldn’t crest in every part of America at the same time. It’s already cresting now in places like New York City and Boston where it arrived earlier than in other parts of the country, but it’s still on the rise in some areas, he said.

The mountain states were engulfed a little earlier, so they’re further along, Gottlieb noted.

Gottlieb said California and the Pacific Northwest were other areas where the omicron wave has probably already peaked something that will become much more apparent in the coming days.

Gottlieb also talked a lot about the arc of the COVID-19 pandemic from its first appearance more than two years ago to this latest omicron wave.

He said his bet was that omicron would be the last major spike in infections associated with the pandemic.

Even if new variants of COVID-19 emerge, growing immunity in the population from vaccines and prior infections would make additional large waves of illness unlikely, he suggested. He noted that between 30% and 40% of the entire population of the U.S. will probably have been infected by the omicron variant by the time the current wave is over.

New oral drugs and other treatments for COVID-19 also will make it more manageable, he added.

COVID-19 is quickly approaching an endemic phase where this becomes a persistent issue, but an issue that fades into the background of our daily lives, he added.

Asked specifically about the situation right now on cruise ships, which have been in the news a lot in recent days, Gottlieb suggested that ships weren’t any more risky a place to be when it comes to COVID-19 than tourism venues on land. In fact, they are likely far safer places to be, he suggested.

He cited the unusually extensive COVID-19 protocols that cruise lines have put in place on ships, including requirements that passengers be vaccinated for the illness and test negative for COVID-19 before boarding, and detailed plans to quickly isolate passengers and crew that test positive for the illness and provide treatment if necessary.

Gottlieb noted that he had planned a cruise for the coming summer and had no qualms about being on board a ship.

Not everything Gottlieb said was so upbeat. He noted that while the vaccines currently available for COVID-19 still greatly reduced the risk of hospitalization or death from the illness, they have become significantly less effective at stopping its spread.

Gottlieb suggested the vaccines eventually could be reformulated to restore their effectiveness in preventing transmission.

Pfizer, where he is on the board, and Moderna both are working on new booster shots that would do just that, which could be available by the fall, he said.

Gottlieb added that, eventually, COVID-19 would just be another illness that you get an annual shot for in the fall along with an influenza shot.

Adding that the data already is clear that the omicron variant is less dangerous than the delta variant, Gottlieb suggested the bottom line was that the worst is now about to be behind the country when it comes to COVID-19.

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