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Health Officials Push COVID-19 Boosters As Concern Grows Over Vaccine Effectiveness With Omicron Variant

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Right now there is concern from Wall Street to Main Street as COVID-19 infections rise again in the U.S. It's happening as health authorities worldwide size up the threat posed by the new omicron variant.

The CDC has expanded its vaccine guidance to recommend all U.S. adults get a booster shot. Officials say it will take a few more weeks before we know if the current vaccines protect against omicron.

As concern grows over the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, the CDC issued new guidance saying
"everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after J&J."

"We fully anticipate this protection, at least in part, will be beneficial against omicron," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Federal health officials say there is no evidence of the new strain in the United States yet. It has now been confirmed in 20 countries since it was first reported in South Africa last week.

"These mutations have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.

The CEO of vaccine maker Moderna reportedly said the existing vaccines will be much less effective against omicron, telling the Financial Times, "all the scientists I've talked to are like, 'This is not going to be good.'"

On CBS Mornings, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins urged patience while we wait for answers.

"The big question for most of us is do the vaccines that have been put into a lot of people's arms -- including mine -- do they provide protection against this variant the way they have with alpha and beta, gamma and delta? And we won't know that for another couple of weeks," Collins said.

State and local officials aren't taking any chances. In New York City, the mayor is advising everyone to return to wearing a mask indoors.

As an FDA panel meets to discuss emergency use authorization for Merck's antiviral pill, the company said it believes the drug will have similar effects against any coronavirus variant.

The vote by the FDA is not binding, but the agency usually follows the committee's recommendations.

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