“Whenever we see a new variant, it’s already spread around the world. So having Omicron in many countries in Europe, in the US, isn’t necessarily a sign of concern. And I think that’s the key point to keep in mind,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the Department of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday. “And also keep in mind that we haven’t seen any evidence that Omicron causes more severe disease than any other variant.”
The Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, was deemed a worrying variant by the World Health Organization on Friday – triggering a global high alert for the state of the coronavirus pandemic, lasted for almost two years.
But Dr Anthony Fauci told NBC on Saturday he would “not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already available in the US.
“We haven’t detected it yet, but when you have a virus that’s showing this level of transmission and you’re having the travel-related cases they’ve documented elsewhere, when you get a virus like this, it’s pretty much invariable, Fauci said.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, notes that travel restrictions allow medical professionals more time to study the variant and understand it in a more important capacity – including whether current vaccines are effective against Omicron.
“The vaccines we have are very likely to prevent this,” Fauci told NBC. “And then it won’t be as serious as some people think. There’s a lot of unknowns.” “You don’t want people to panic, but you do want to know we’re doing everything we can to get through this.”
US federal health officials are working around the clock to learn more about Omicron, an official told CNN Saturday, but it could take weeks before they know if there are concerns about the sudden variant. whether the high variable is justified or not.
Concern about the new variant comes as Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday travel season in the US and passengers pack airports at near pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened about 2.3 million people at airports nationwide on Wednesday, making it the busiest day at security checkpoints since March. 2020. The number is 88% of traffic on the equivalent of Wednesday 2019, the day of the pandemic. And it’s more than double the number of TSA people screened on the same day last year.
More contagious doesn’t always mean more dangerous, says expert
Scientists are concerned about the Omicron strain of the coronavirus because of the variant’s significant number of mutations that could make it more contagious than the original novel coronavirus.
But with so much still unknown, Dr Saju Mathew, a public health expert, told CNN on Saturday that the priority is to learn more about the variants and vaccinations.
“I’m totally in the mood that we shouldn’t panic yet,” said Mr. Mathew. The most important thing is research on this virus. Just because this virus is more contagious, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more dangerous,” Mathew said. is still very important. “This is the time to go to your local pharmacy and get vaccinated.”
Vaccine maker Moderna said Friday that it is moving quickly to test the vaccine’s ability to neutralize Omicron and expects data to be available in the coming weeks.
The strain includes mutations “seen in the Delta variant that are thought to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are thought to promote immune escape,” Moderna said. know in a press release.
“The combination of mutations presents a significant potential risk for accelerating the decline in natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”
If its current vaccines and boosters aren’t enough to fight the variant, Moderna explains one possible solution is to push people to larger doses, which the company is testing. It also tests a specific Omicron booster.
Scientists at BioNTech, the German company that works with Pfizer to produce a Covid-19 vaccine, are also investigating the impact of this variant on their shot, with data expected within a few days. next week.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson told CNN in a statement that the company is also testing the effectiveness of the vaccine against Omicron.
Omicron will go around the world, expert says
Dr William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, reiterated that this variant is possible in the US, noting that he anticipates a return to more stringent Covid-19 mitigation efforts.
“It’s going to go around the world. It seems so,” Schaffner told CNN on Saturday. “I think we might actually be in a phase where there are more masks, much more social distancing, and more restrictions and obligations on vaccinations going forward.”
He added that even if the Omicron variant is not available in the US, it is bound to be “soon”.
“I think we just need to be prepared that the virus is still under control. I don’t care how tired you are,” Schaffner said. “We’re going to have to take this on an ongoing basis very, very seriously. …fasten your seat belts.”
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Virginia Langmaid, Michael Nedelman, Frederik Pleitgen, and Kaitlan Collins.