Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on “The News with Shepard Smith” (M-F, 7PM-8PM ET) today, Monday, December 20th. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com:
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Omicron Is Now About 73% Of The Virus Sequenced In The U.S., Says CDC Director Walensky
SHEPARD SMITH: Good evening, I’ve got a confession. I’m sick of COVID. Don’t get me wrong I mean I’m sad for the sick and dying, obviously, frontline workers and medical professionals, you’re heroes. So grateful for your sacrifices for all of us and I follow all of the rules, every one of them. But like so many of you, I’m sick of worrying about COVID. I’m sick of hearing about it. I’m sick of reading about it. I’m sick of talking about it and I am definitely sick of reporting on it every single day. It’s too much. There’s too much confusion and it’s too political. So, in a minute, I’m going to ask the CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky if I wouldn’t be better off just getting Omicron since it’s pretty clear it’s not going to kill me. Tell me you haven’t heard this, I’m triple vaxxed so why not just ditch the precautions and move on? Get it and stay home till it’s done with me? Why is that wrong? I’ll ask her because Omicron is casting a long dark shadow over the holidays. As your phone has likely alerted you in the past hour, Omicron is dominant. Three out of four COVID cases all of a sudden are Omicron nationwide. That’s brand-new data tonight from the CDC. It’s taken over as predicted but a whole lot faster than I heard anybody say. So now I can go through all the new restrictions and the new vaccine developments and the fact that big cities are hitting new records because they are but instead, let’s hear from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the CDC. Doctor, appreciate you so much. Thank you for your time and your tireless efforts for all of us. My god, thank you. Omicron is in like 46 states and countries how many people has it killed?
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Good evening Shepard. You know, things are moving quickly and, and I know people are concerned. Certainly, we have had reported deaths of Omicron around the world although there have been a minority of them, fewer than we’ve seen for other variants so far. Maybe if I could just update—
SMITH: Do we know how many?
DR. WALENSKY: You know, those data continue to come in and not every death has had their virus and their variants sequenced but those data are continuing to—
SMITH: But it’s not a lot, right?
DR. WALENSKY: The reports are relatively few but maybe if I could just back up and tell you where we are right now and that is data that you reported that new out of the CDC is that the Omicron variant is now predicted to be about 73% of all of the virus that we have sequenced here in the United States. And that was, as you know, expected based on the growth rates of how quickly Omicron is transmitted across other countries and around the world. We anticipated that this number would be about this high at around this time. But there’s so much that you can do now that we didn’t know you could and didn’t have to as possible tools against Omicron just a year ago, and that of course includes getting wearing your mask in public indoor spaces and we’re still encouraging people to do that, that continues to be a recommendation, but then of course to get vaccinated and to get boosted when you’re eligible.
SMITH: Of course. Doctor, I do all that. I try to never talk about me on here, but I get it. I’m getting it from everyone I know in the whole country. I’m triple vaxxed, I follow all the rules. And they’re all over the place by the way. Why shouldn’t vaxxed up people like me just live normal? And then when you get it, hunker down until it’s over. Explain to me why that’s wrong.
DR. WALENSKY: You know, we still are learning a lot. There continue to be studies of Omicron coming in. We don’t know yet the long-term manifestations of Omicron, the long COVID that we’ve seen with other variants so that would be one reason certainly to try and avoid getting it all together as well as the fact that you could transmit it to other people, other people who are more immunocompromised, older people, family members, so we’re really not encouraging that as an activity if there is a plan, if you can avoid it.
SMITH: We’re so safe around here. I mean corporate rules, family rules, we are safe and yet I know so many people who have it of all kinds of people in all kinds of, everybody has it. And some people are allowing only vaccinated people to be with them for over the holidays. But everybody’s getting it from everybody. What, what difference does that matter anymore? Does being vaccinated with unvaccinated people really make a difference?
DR. WALENSKY: It absolutely does. So, here’s what I can tell you. Our hospitals are largely full of people who are unvaccinated. Our vaccinated and boosted people are 20 times less likely to die than our unvaccinated people. Unvaccinated people are dying at 20 times the rate of people who are boosted. Severe illness, the vaccines and boosting prevents severe illness in Omicron and so it’s really important to continue to get vaccinated, to continue to get boosted. But all of the data that we’re seeing is exactly as you say, it may not prevent infections. And so, what we really do need to do is make sure that people who continue to be vaccinated and boosted continue to wear their masks to prevent the infections overall.
SMITH: The data shows Doctor, I don’t have to tell you this, people are not listening. I mean we’re setting records in travel. People who got vaxxed the first time around are not getting the third shot, the numbers are really small. I mean whose mind, whose mind are you going to change? I mean we’re trying, you know, the definition of insane is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different response. We’re not, nobody’s changing, are they?
DR. WALENSKY: So, we are boosting at the rate of about a million a day, over 60 million people have been boosted and in fact, we’re working really hard to get those who are most vulnerable to severe disease and death. Our older populations are immunocompromised populations. This is really important. What we do know about the Omicron variant it’s got over 50 mutations and because of those mutations, just being vaccinated with two doses may not be enough and so we really do need people to get boosted in order to increase their protection especially against severe disease and death with Omicron.
SMITH: Why do you still call two shots fully vaxxed? Why hasn’t the message, and I don’t mean to have the wrong tone, everybody’s just frustrated, right? I mean nobody’s, it’s just like, it’s clearly it takes a booster now to be fully vaccinated so why not change the words to match the reality? I don’t get it.
DR. WALENSKY: We’re examining this definition, of course, but what I want to be very clear about is that CDC recommendations right now say that everyone who is over the age of 18, when they become eligible, should get their booster shots, six months after their Pfizer or Moderna shot, two months after their J&J and that is very clear in our CDC recommendations right now
SMITH: So are you gonna change the words at some point? Because it seems like the reality has changed—
DR. WALENSKY: We continue to look at that definition, but, but what I will say is our recommendations about who should get a booster are very, very clear. Please, especially in the context of Omicron, go get your booster shot.
SMITH: You have the hardest job and I’m so thankful but I do have one question that I’ve been wanting to ask for a long time. This thing happened really fast. I mean you guys said it would go fast but it’s gone even faster. I mean I think it was Dr. Fauci who said maybe by the middle of next month it would be dominant, it’s dominant even before Christmas. So, here’s the question. Do, what’s our risk of coming of a new variant popping up that just starts killing everybody? You know what I’m saying? It’s, it’s infinitely worse. Is that just a crapshoot? Is it possible, is it, what is it, help me understand.
DR. WALENSKY: You know, the more virus that circulates, the more possibility for variants to emerge. Generally variants emerge that are beneficial to the virus and this one was because it was really very much more transmissible but your question actually leads me to say exactly what I’ve been saying, which is we need to decrease the amount of virus out there. We do so by wearing masks, by getting vaccinated, by getting boosted and then working as we have been very hard to do the same around the world.
SMITH: And before I go, the plan is for vacation over the over the New Year’s holiday after being with close quarters with some family over Christmas, then a group of friends, eight of us all triple vaxxed, we’re going to get on a plane and go to a beach and we’re going to try to have something normal of a life. Is that wrong?
DR. WALENSKY: You know, everyone’s gonna have to make their own decisions and every family is going to have to make their own decisions. What I will say is we know how to do it safely. You have to wear your mask, you have to be vaccinated and you have to be boosted. And in fact, if you’re gathering as a family, I would recommend getting tested to make sure for that extra reassurance that people are not gathering when they have a symptomatic infection. If all of those things happen and you continue to do so throughout the holidays, then we’re really, you know, optimistic that you can do some of the things that you want to do safely but, but there’s a lot of parameters around that to try and do things safely.
SMITH: I like the mask. It kept me warm this morning. It’s cold in New York now. I kind of like it. I don’t have chapped lips anymore. I don’t mind the mask, but I hate COVID. I’m done with you COVID be gone, you know like that preacher said, go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you and thank you for spreading the good word and I wish more people would listen to you, but it doesn’t look like they will. Good luck, Dr. Walensky.
DR. WALENSKY: Thank you, we’ll keep trying. Thank you so much.